Smart mini-grid for reliable power

India must address its electricity sector challenges if it wants to maintain its high economic growth over the long run. The continuing electricity shortage poses a threat to the country's growth.

While the significance of large-sized conventional power plants cannot be over-emphasised, there is also a need to focus on distributed generation, especially from locally available renewable energy sources.

Electricity available from such decentralised generating stations would be consumed locally, which should obviate the need for laying transmission systems and lead to a reduction in technical losses.

Challenges likely to be encountered in evacuating infirm power from such plants can be handled by adopting new technologies like smart grid. Over the years, smart grid has evolved as an effective technological tool to manage frequency stability that would arise from supply of infirm power into the grid.

The basic concept of smart grid is to add monitoring, control and communication capabilities into the existing electricity delivery system in order to improve the reliability, security and efficiency of the overall system. Advanced sensing, communication and control technologies in smart grids not only facilitate generation and transmission of power but also distribution and utilisation of electricity in a more intelligent and effective manner.

Smart grid is a significant technology-enabler, allowing consumer to participate in energy usage decisions while optimising grid operations, fostering grid security and opening new markets for alternate energy production.

India has recently embarked on a couple initiatives on smart-grid. India smart-grid task force and India smart grid forum are formulated with an objective of accelerating development of smart grid technologies.

Several pilot projects are on the anvil under various government schemes to promote the smart grid concept. However, most of these projects are designed keeping in mind large-scale power generation. The use of these advanced technologies to generate, distribute and consume electricity in the small-scale distribution network i.e in mini-grid, is not common, although the same tools and techniques can be applied in mini-grid to create a smart mini-grid system for intelligent and efficient operation.

Teri has developed India's first-of its kind renewable energy based smart mini-grid (SMG) system by using advanced digital and control techniques to generate, manage, distribute and utilise electricity at the local distribution levels more intelligently and effectively.

Such an application will not only foster effective inter-connection and utilisation of multiple renewable energy resources but also help in advancing last mile energy access optimally by improving the system's overall efficiency.

A smart mini-grid, or micro-grid, is an intelligent electricity distribution network, operating at or below 11 KV, where the energy demand is intelligently managed by a diverse range of distributed energy resources (DERs) such as solar PV, micro-hydro power plants, wind turbines, biomass, small conventional generators like diesel gensets in combination with each other through smart control techniques.

Such smart mini-grid systems have potential for use not only in commercial and industrial complex but also in hospitals, shopping malls/ complexes, apartments, residential complexes, educational institutions and remote and un-electrified locations. Large-scale implementation of such smart mini-grid systems can be well integrated with the existing programmes of MNRE such as Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission and the National Rural Electrification Programme.

Smart-grid and smart mini-grids are evolving as enabling technologies for the future dynamic energy needs. Hence they need the support of a conducive policy and regulatory regime for the concept to flourish and the market to develop. Since smart grid and smart mini-grid carry several advantages in terms of their multi-sectoral benefits, the focus should be to implement projects with these innovative technologies, develop the sustainable business model along with cost-benefit analysis.

There is also a need for consistent, long-term policy to encourage open access and incentivise use of advanced technologies that increase capacity, improve efficiency and reliability. Also mechanisms such as pilot demonstrations need to be created to bring together various industries, including power, information and communication technology, manufacturing and government towards advancing this agenda, by creating a road map for smart grid implementation.

Tags: smart mini grid, renewable energy, micro-grid, electricity distribution, distributed generation