The Indian power sector faces several hurdles, particularly in terms of rapid energy demand growth, infrastructure modernisation, and transmission and distribution (T&D) inefficiencies. Hence, digital transformation is a key area of focus for the industry. According to Ponniah Sankarakumar, Director, Marketing & Strategy, Energy Business, Schneider Electric India Pvt Ltd, one of the most advanced parts in a digital transformation is the incorporation of AI and cognitive models to automate and enhance traditionally manual tasks. In this interaction, he explains how smart technologies can help the power generation & distribution industry to overcome some of the key challenges.
How do you cater to the power generation & distribution sector in India?
As global leaders in digital transformation of energy management and automation, Schneider Electric is focused at leveraging its technological expertise towards optimal utilisation of resources within the power sector. Technology capabilities such as the Internet of Things (IoT), analytics and cloud are a critical part of any digital transformation and can provide the platform for digitising the grid.
Schneider Electric’s open IoT-enabled framework EcoStruxure is designed to ensure higher efficiency in grid operations, optimal asset management and facilitate an overall shift towards digitisation of power distribution in the country. This is also with an aim to support the centre’s goal of providing reliable 24*7 Power for all. Schneider Electric is currently working with various state discoms to provide digital technologies for the grid. Our commitment and endeavour is towards making a New India that is energy positive.
How is the market for power generation & distribution equipment (such as switchgear, electronic meters, control panel, generators & transformers) in India?
As per the data compiled by the Indian Electrical & Electronics Manufacturers’ Association (IEEMA), the electrical and industrial electronics industry witnessed a double-digit growth of 12.8 per cent in 2017-18. The power equipment industry comprises of equipment used for the generation, transmission, distribution, and utilisation of power.
The performance of power equipment industry is closely linked to the addition in power generation and grid modernisation. Although higher imports still pose a challenge towards the industry but policy changes and various initiatives undertaken by the government and industry are eventually showing signs of revival for the sector. The industry’s record performance is attributed to Government’s schemes like DDUJGY, IPDS and Saubhagya where the country is racing to provide electricity to all households.
What do you think can the power generation & distribution equipment industry gain from the Interim Budget?
The Interim Budget for financial year 2019-2020 gave more than a glimpse into India’s energy infrastructure for the future – one that will propel the economy towards the $10 trillion mark in the next eight years. With the government’s aim to alleviate the power sector through schemes such as UDAY, the budget reiterated that all households will be electrified in the country.
One of the key elements of this vision is a definite shift towards renewable sources of energy that will not only power households and industries but also lead to a sustainable future.
How has renewable sources changed the landscape of power transmission and distribution in India?
India’s power sector has experienced tremendous transformations in the last few years. India’s renewable energy sector is the second most attractive as per the Renewable Energy Attractiveness Index 2017. India continued its upward trend in the index to second position with the Government’s program to build 175GW in renewable energy generation by 2022 and to have renewable energy account for 40% of installed capacity by 2040.
What are the latest trends in technology when it comes to transformers, switchgears & control panels, electronic meters etc.?
The diverse nature of power supply is making the power equipment product different than it was a few years ago. With the advancement of technology in the power sector, electrical equipment such as transformers, switchgears, control panels, electronic meters etc. are becoming smarter.
Smart transformers provide a voltage optimised power supply to address the energy needs for efficient use of power. In smart grid operation, automated switchgear is preferred over conventional operation as it is more efficient. Also, protection relays and control panels have become more and more advanced providing fault protection and seamless integration with energy management and control systems.
How automation and smart technologies are helping the manufacturers of power generation & distribution equipment?
The Indian power sector faces several challenges, particularly in terms of rapid energy demand growth, infrastructure modernisation, and transmission and distribution inefficiencies. In addition to that, manual distribution processes, challenges with decision making transparency, insufficient infrastructure, and lack of real-time information are some of the technical challenges that are in turn resulting in delayed revenue realisation, poor operating efficiency, and high operating costs.
Hence, digital transformation is a key area of focus. With Smart Grids, the goal is to have a reliable, resilient, and self-sustaining grid operating model. This is enabled by IoT technology embedding communications and intelligence capabilities into physical assets and equipment. These assets are down to the distribution street transformer, and potentially the meter to provide numerous transformational opportunities. One of the most advanced parts in a digital transformation is the incorporation of AI and cognitive models to automate and enhance traditionally manual tasks.
Schneider Electric's EcoStruxure is a system architecture and platform that enables the ability to create an interoperable and open platform that is IoT enabled. EcoStruxure aids in connecting devices across the grid, in turn enabling collection and analysis of data that can provide valuable insights on power consumption patterns and identify potential grid failures and attempt resolving it in a timely fashion. With smart technologies, the aim is to have maximised energy output; improved safety and security; optimised capex and opex; maximised plant availability and reliability; and reliable and efficient electric generation.
What are the major challenges before the Indian power generation & distribution equipment industry?
The growth of a nation depends upon its infrastructure and one of such basic infrastructure is availability of quality power in the country. There is a need for 24×7 uninterrupted power supply along with transparency in the operation of sector and consumer participation. This is possible if the distribution utilities function effectively. However, the sector is plagued by various challenges such as theft, pilferages, and network losses. The metering, billing, and collection at many places involves human intervention and most of the times human error can occur. Also, there is lack of infrastructure for data base management system and at the same time absence of any data mining system that further creates a challenge.
To overcome this, Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure solution drives process optimisation by leveraging IoT and cloud capabilities combined with automation, software and analytics, leading to optimal efficiency for power discoms. This makes the energy value chain smarter and address reliability and resilience of ageing infrastructure, as well as the flexibility to accommodate a growing presence of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) connected to the grid.
The other major challenge is the procurement practice adopted by most of the customers of these equipment. The present practice of minimising capital expenditure (CAPEX) at any cost, has resulted in poor quality equipment being sourced, further causing multiple problems in the operational phase. The loss of revenue and the additional operational expenditure (OPEX) being spent to rectify eventually make the overall cost much higher than even equivalent costs experienced in the west. Alternative procurement practices are available to ensure that mutually beneficial partnerships are established.
What are your growth plans for the company?
Schneider Electric remains focused on keeping life on all the time by making energy accessible to all. We believe that access to energy is a basic human right. Our work continues irrespective of changes in the ecosystem, given that it is vital to the country’s development concerns.