Smart Grid Progresses in India

The building blocks are being put in place in India for smart grids that will support a high level of renewables and electrification for all.
Published: Tue 15 Dec 2015

India is a very large country with complex issues and many infrastructure challenges around a growing population that is expected to become the world’s largest by 2030, exceeding 1.5 billion people.

But enthusiastically led by present Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now in his second year in office, the country is strongly focused on development, especially in the infrastructure sectors.

“The new government has raised the bar,” Reji Kumar Pillai, President of the India Smart Grid Forum (ISGF) told Engerati in an exclusive interview. “We now need to update the Smart Grid Roadmap which will be one of our first tasks in the New Year.”

The ISGF, a public-private partnership formed to assist the government and utilities on smart grid policy and activities, worked with Ministry of Power and other stakeholders to finalize the Smart Grid Roadmap that was issued by Ministry of Power in August 2013 with activities and targets towards achieving a nationwide rollout of smart grids by 2027.

National Smart Grid Mission

Mr Pillai points to three significant policy developments that have occurred during the year.

First, the formation of a National Smart Grid Mission, which was proposed to bring together stakeholders from across the country to implement the Smart Grid Roadmap.

“To achieve the targets envisaged in the Smart Grid Roadmap, we need participation of all players and a National Mission will allow all to put in their best effort to make it happen.”

Some of the challenges include providing access to electricity to almost quarter of the country’s population – 300 million people – not connected to the grid, improving power quality with most people facing power cuts almost daily, and high transmission and especially distribution losses averaging almost one-third.

“Our priorities are universal access to quality power and to reduce the losses to below 10% and we believe smart grid technologies can help us achieve these.”

The Mission will formulate and monitor projects, evaluate standards and technologies and assist with resources, among other activities. It is expected that approximately 30% of project funding will come from the central government.

Smart grid regulation

The second key development was the release by the Forum of Regulators (which brings together state utility regulators and the Central Energy Regulatory Commission) of a model smart grid regulation.

“This is an enabling regulation that states can adopt or adapt,” says Mr Pillai. “So far Assam and Karnataka states have adopted the regulation and we expect that by the end of next year all states will have a smart grid regulation in place.”

The regulation covers among other aspects the formation of smart grid ‘cells’, time of use tariff regime, demand response and mandatory rooftop generation for large customers, the formulation and execution of projects, mechanisms for cost recovery and monitoring and evaluation of projects.

Smart meters coming nationally

The third development is the release of the national standard for smart meters, IS 16444, by the Bureau of Indian Standards.

Mr Pillai comments that this allows for modular plug-and-play communication to meet local requirements and technology advances and it standardizes the anti-tamper measures that meters are required to have.

“This provides guidance to local meter manufacturers as well as foreign companies who would otherwise have difficulty in having their meters certified in India because of the anti-tamper requirements.”

Mr Pillai adds that the target price for smart meters in India is in the $20-40 range plus the cost of communication module, which is about half the international prices. This will be achieved through volume. “The government is due to announce a 100 million smart meter rollout for the next 5-7 years, which will require major procurement decisions,” he says, pointing to a parallel with a 10 million efficient lighting tender, which through central procurement achieved a price drop from 170 to 70 Rupees (US$2.50 to US$1) per bulb in less than a year. “A national programme will provide the volume.”

From smart grid pilot to full rollout

India initiated smart grid pilots in 2012, however, these hadn’t turned out as expected, Mr Pillai comments, attributing this to a lack of knowledge on smart grid technologies at the time and underestimation of the costs involved in such projects. Of the 14 projects initiated, only seven are in various stages of execution and three have been cancelled, while there are four in tendering stage.

Now, with the hundreds of smart grid projects successfully executed around the world, India can draw from these experiences, he says. “The next phase is full deployment, and there will be no more pilots. We will get results from those under way but we are not going to wait for them to finish.”

India’s renewable challenge

Giving imperative to the smart grid in India are other initiatives such as the Electric Mobility Mission, which targets 6-7 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2022, and the 100 Smart Cities initiative.

“Under this initiative 175GW of renewables are due to be installed over the next 7 years, of which 100GW will be solar and of that 40GW on rooftops. 20 million households injecting energy into the grid is going to make the grid different and complex and will be a huge engineering challenge to manage.” [Going Solar On Rooftops: India targets 40GW by 2022]

But he is sure that this will be achieved, stating that for use over 800 units of electricity, rooftop solar is already cheaper in India than grid supplied electricity and the differential will increase as prices go up. “This revolution is in the hands of the people and it will happen, whether it takes 7 years or 10 years.”

He also notes India’s commitment at COP21 for 40% of energy to be from renewables by 2030. To achieve this, while at the same time increasing the average consumption, currently about a third of the world average up to the world average, would require installation of at least 500GW of renewables by 2030.

“We need to put our energy into renewables and perhaps nuclear as these should be able to mitigate our main problems. And smart grids need to be taken up in real earnestness by all players because of this multiplicity of new programmes being promoted.”

Further reading

ISGF: Smart Grid Vision and Roadmap for India