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    Puducherry Smart Grid Pilot holds hope for future


    Power Grid Corporation, in collaboration with Puducherry Electricity Department established the first pilot smart grid project by installing more than 1,400 smart energy meters in various homes in Puducherry that would perform various designated functions automatically and feed the resultant information to the central computer. This IT-enabled grid system aims to cut down transmission theft and loss.


    There are 14 such smart grid projects under way throughout the country and the experience gained so far from Puducherry has been highly useful. Also known as AMI or advanced metering infrastructure, this project at Puducherry covered possibly the most important element of the smart grid relating to metering.


    In so far as loss of power, due to theft is concerned, there are no estimates that can be given simply because this occurs in an “invisible” manner. Most electricians are aware that they can easily hook up connection to direct supply of power from source (the main lines) at the point of contact with impunity. This is the first point of contact to get “free” stolen power that needs to be plugged!


    Many big names were involved in this effort spearheaded by Power Grid Corporation. L&T, TCS, Wipro, and Dassault Systems were involved in providing meters free and the software. With the AMI in place, the project managers tested it for several uses. For instance, an ‘outage management system’ monitors the health of the distribution transformers, alerting the control room if the coil is overheating or if the quantum of electricity is more than what it should be. While preventive maintenance will help avoid power outages, if there is a fault, the system will pinpoint it. The system also tested well for ‘demand response’ — charging consumers at rates that depend upon the time of use.


    The consumer will be informed of the price on his (say) mobile phone and can decide to switch off an air-conditioner, thereby, bringing down the bill. However, for such ‘dynamic pricing’ to come into practice the regulator will have to approve it. The project demonstrates that dynamic pricing is possible.

    ‘Net metering’ was tested. The net meters can measure not only the electricity drawn from the grid, but also what is fed into it. Riding on the 1,400-odd net meters installed, the Government of Puducherry is now testing out a grid-interactive rooftop scheme with technical assistance from Auroville Consulting. According to Toine van Megen, Co-Founder, Auroville Consulting, the idea is to “demonstrate technical and administrative feasibility of grid-interactive rooftop solar PV systems” paving the way for a solar energy policy for Puducherry. According to an official of PowerGrid, all the three technologies for communication between meters and the control room were used — ‘powerline carrier’ (both narrow and broad band), radio frequency (at 865 MHz and 2.4 GHz) and GPRS.


    After having obtained initial success in monitoring the progress made in Puducherry, Power Grid is taking the next bold step to install some 87,000 smart energy meters in Puducherry homes in the next phase of the pilot. No doubt, when the results are computed from the other 13 centres, appropriate steps can be taken to carry the smart energy meter project to the next national level.


    What is of utmost importance is that we ought to ensure that there are strictly encased and pilfer-proof meters that cannot be “picked”. Also, any attempt at tampering them should automatically emit signs or alert signals at the central computer that such a nefarious activity is underway, giving location details so that the culprits can be apprehended.


    Although hot water is not required in most parts of the country, those who have installed solar water heaters do get a special discounted rate on the electricity consumed. Use ofsolar power that can reduce the dependence on electric power is unfortunately, out of reach for the common man, because of high investment cost of the panels. The power minister needs to direct some attention to this aspect as well, so that the power saved in this fashion could be better utilised for industrial development.


    Posted on Tuesday, October 15, 2013

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