What Are the Current Challenges for the Indian Energy Network?
For decades, India has faced challenges in energy grid stability. Year after year, there have been severe reports of blackouts and brownouts, and while the population in India is growing, energy consumption is continuing to increase. In order to curb current and future issues there is a need to develop and implement innovative technologies.
Energy from photovoltaic panels, wind power, biomass, and hydroelectric power have to be integrated into smart grids in order to prevent the hazards of blackouts. Although, recently India has seen rapid developments of new energy networks, there are still many questions about the future integration of renewable energy and smart grids. When will the market be ready? Who is willing to invest? What is the bankability, and how will it be regulated? But, beside the technical feasibility, there are also many institutional and social aspects to consider.
To understand what innovative measures have to be taken, current areas of ongoing research include: communication and networks, wireless sensor and camera observation networks, signal processing and autonomous robot systems, electronics and smart networks.
Furthermore, due to India’s vast geography and various climates, utilities and components of smart grids need to work under an array of climate-related circumstances. Even more so, remote locations that are not yet connected to the central power grid are numerous in India. In order for these isolated communities to develop, stable energy output is a necessity.
What Is a Smart Grid and What Is a Virtual Power Plant?
A smart grid is an electricity supply network system where output from renewable energy is synchronised with Electrical Storage and Distribution Systems. The utilities that are connected to the smart grid use digital communication technology to detect and react to local changes in energy usage. All information is stored in a centralized location which can be accessed from a local digital source. A smart grid makes it possible to align demand and supply of energy consumption for residential housing, buildings, factories, and transportation systems.
A Virtual Power Plant (VPP) is the software that enables a smart grid to function efficiently, and creates an opportunity to monetize surplus energy. The challenge is to aggregate several distributed energy resources (DERs) and display them virtually on an online platform where people’s production and consumption of renewable energy are stored in a cloud-based data control center. The data centers use various communication channels and Internet of things (IoT) sensors to gather data. Based on the balance of local supply and demand, the surplus of energy can be sold on the wholesale market.
How Does a Virtual Power Plant Work?
A Virtual Power Plant has a central IT control system, where renewable energy resources are connected to the central IT hub. By connecting all participating local energy systems to a central remote control unit, a data transfer is established. The hub is then able to monitor, forecast, and dispatch the connected units in accordance with input and output levels.
Furthermore, an integrated VPP and smart grid aims to consolidate numerous energy resources and improve the efficiency of energy distribution and usage. Additionally, by connecting households and companies that have surplus energy output, the VPP is able to balance the sustainable energy supply with energy from conventional resources.
Possible Applications in the Indian Market
The planning commission of India has stressed the need for developing domestic energy supply by integrating renewable energy resources in urban and rural areas. Even more so, according to the Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) (2007) total renewable energy may account for 11-13% of India’s energy mix by the year 2032. The IEPR highlights that the distributed nature of renewable energy sources can provide many socio-economic benefits for the country.
So far, numerous smart grids have been developed in India. For instance, in Assam a smart grid powered by solar panels is being tested. The grid stretches over three subdivisions, connecting more than 15,000 consumers. In Himachal Pradesh a grid has been established that covers an industrial area serving more than 1,200 consumers. The POWERGRID company, responsible for the project, has achieved installation of 875 Single Phase and 161 Three Phase Meters that are being monitored for further analysis.
According to Green Tech Media analyst Saadeh “The market for VPP and the technology is very promising and make more economic sense in areas with high concentration of wind and solar power.” Virtual Power Plants on their own can manage thousands of independent, periodical renewable energy systems. The logistical challenge lies in aligning the distribution of utilities so the power derived from these sources do not flood the grid all at once.
The VPP will ensure that the flow of electricity is monitored both locally and centrally so that power outages are prevented. Power companies therefore have a greater incentive to tap into technologies that help reduce the current problem of power outages by installing innovative solution which can be build on the notion of smart grids.
As Sadeeh mentions, “a distributed grid with a high penetration of renewable energy needs some sort of flexibility; virtual power plants offer that.” Especially those areas that are remote and not yet supplied by a reliable energy source might profit to the largest extent from the development of an autonomous energy system.
The ideal smart grid consist of a network that connects residential areas, business parks, smart vehicles, and factory sides with energy supply from renewables, such as biomass and hydro power. Although, not many areas in the world have such an extensive energy mix, this doesn't mean a sustainable electrical supply can not be achieved by connecting a house to a wind turbine and a battery. The idea of a smart grid, however, is to connect all energy sources to a centralized location and dispatch energy according to the principal of the Virtual Power Plant. Thereby, regulating the amount of electricity in the grid and the amount being distributed at any given time, and ensuring the stability of the entire energy network.