Friday, August 20, 2010

Need to look at smart grid standards from an Indian context: Venkat Rajaraman, Su-Kam

First of all, I would like to thank Venkat Rajaraman, CEO, Su-Kam Power Systems, for sharing his presentation as well as the points he made during a panel discussion yesterday evening on Smart cities and smart grid: opportunities and challenges at the Freescale Technology Forum (FTF) 2010 in Bangalore.

Need for multi-disciplinary, collaborative innovation
Rajaraman called for the need to innovate, which should be multi-disciplinary, collaborative and fast paced! According to him, smart meter is not relevant for 80 percent of the Indian population as of now.

Further, India needs to look at standards for smart grid from an Indian context, rather than try and apply some smart grid solutions developed elsewhere, as those may not be relevant. There is also a need to customize the testing standards for India. All, quite telling points! Smart grid is a journey, and not an end result.

India specific challenges
Challenges that are mostly India specific are -- one, we don't have the complete solution. While the ingredients exist, the standardized, modular, scalable, open solution don’t exist yet. Next, few off-the-shelf products are available and niche solutions are expensive.

Further, there are an enormous number of stakeholders. There is a need for the concerted effort of utilities, regulators, vendors, technologists, standard bodies, appliance industry, IT industry and consumer group to work together. No one group can do this quickly on their own. And, no one has all the answers!

Many of the required solutions (e.g., smart appliances) don’t yet exist in India, but the incremental cost is low. India also requires the analysis and experimentation in communication technologies and business models.

Smart grid challenges and opportunities
The points made by Venkat Rajaraman are summarized below.

1. Smart grid is truly one area - where you need multi-disciplinary, collaborative, fast paced innovation to happen. It requires the power engineers to work with the embedded engineers, IT/networking engineers, software developers, data mining experts, Web technologists and many other specialists -- to all come together and work in a collaborative way.

2. It requires multiple stakeholders to come together - smart grid experts, technology solution providers, regulatory bodies, utilities, etc. No one can come to the party before and no one can race ahead of others. They all pretty much need to come at the same time. If not, the weak link will slow everyone down. If the utility infrastructure is not ready for time of the day pricing, demand-response etc, implementing them at the consumer end is not of much relevance.

3. In India, the current weak link are the utilities. Almost all of the public utilities are losing money very heavily (see below).

Total commercial losses of utilities:
* 50 Discoms (erstwhile State Electricity Boards) struggle to be financially viable.
* Mainly because of subsidy, power theft and also because of poor efficiency.
* Estimated utility loss at Rs. 40,000 crore in 2010.
* Loss estimated to Increase to Rs. 68,000 crore loss by 2014-15.
* Utilities – No reward for performance and no punishment for non-performance.
* Need regulatory framework to address this.

Aggregate Technical and Commercial (AT&C) loss
* India - 32 percent (overall).
* State DISCOM losses – from 18 percent to 62 percent.
* Low billing and collection efficiency (50 percent billed and only 41 percent is collected).
* Power theft (accounts for 1.5 percent of nation's GDP).

Smart grid economy:
* R-APDRP: To bring AT&C losses to 15 percent (17 percent savings).
* Power production in 2010: 160K MW.
* 1 percent of avoided generation - saves 1,600 MW.
* 17 percent savings (32 percent -15 percent) would amount to savings of 27,000 MW.

4. Smart meter is not relevant for 80 percent of the Indian population as of now. The bulk of India lives in one- or two-room houses with very little electricity. India's energy consumption is also less -- 1/3rd of China, 1/10th of Europe, 1/20th of US -- though the consumption trend in India is increasing.

Also, energy awareness is less. We understand rupee/paisa better than watts/volts. Yes, smart metering at the utility level is required and also required for the industrial and high end consumers. However, it is not relevant for the remaining 80 percent of our population for the next several years. As per NDPL, 3 percent of their consumers accounted for 70 percent of the revenue, which pretty much re-inforces that theory.

5. India needs to look at standards for smart grid from an Indian context. Some solution on smart grid developed for US/Europe cannot be applied directly to Indian market as they may not be relevant/applicable.

Su-Kam leads in power back-up industry
For those who are unaware, Su-Kam Power Systems is an Indian MNC in the power back-up industry, with investment from Reliance India Power Fund (a JV between Reliance and Temasek Holdings). It focuses on three verticals – inverters/UPS, batteries and renewables.

The company has six manufacturing units. It has 65 technology and design patents in India and the US, and exports to over 50 countries.

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