Towards a Smarter GridJul 31
Over 600 million people faced a massive blackout today when three electricity grids connecting more than 20 states and the national capital collapsed. The northern grid failed for the second straight day, the eastern and north-eastern grids too collapsed. Considered as the biggest ever power failure in India and one of the world’s worst power outage, this affected half of Indian population which went powerless, while highlighting the frail power system in the country.
800 long-distance and commuter trains were stranded en route. Normal life came to a grinding halt in the national capital and the vicinity. Delhi Metro was shut several hours, leading to severe commuting problems across Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida. Traffic lights also mostly failed, causing added chaos on the roads. Water supply ran out in several areas. And the roads were choked with commuters trying to make it to work. Unfortunately, this stretched on for hours. It’s not hard to imagine the scale of magnitude of human suffering waking up to a powerless morning in horrid weather conditions.
Even after the power is restored, the reason for the power failure in the supply chain is still being debated upon widely. Unfortunately, almost half of the electricity generated in the country is lost on its way to homes and businesses – like a bucket with a big hole. Some of the losses are due to theft, but much of it is poor infrastructure.
Such crisis scenarios caused by surging power demands and lack of sophisticated management, force us to think….have we arrived yet, are we really a developed nation. While power supply has improved a lot since the last decade, there is a lot needs to be done in managing power. The good news is increasingly electric utilities and policy makers in India have started looking at smart grid technologies seriously; and few pilot implementations are already on the immediate horizon.
Can digital intelligence help us plug in the holes in the electric power sector in India? The answer is, yes. Fortunately, our energy production and delivery systems can be made smarter. It can be managed like the complex global system it is. We can now instrument everything from appliances and the meter in the home to the turbines in the power plants and can be monitored and controlled on real time. to the network itself. In fact, the intelligent utility system will actually looks a lot more like the Internet than like a traditional grid. It can be linked to thousands of power sources — including climate-friendly ones such as wind and solar. All of this instrumentation then generates new data, which advanced analytics can turn into insight, so that better decisions by key stakeholders of the value chain can be made in real time. The whole system can become more efficient, reliable, adaptive…smarter!.
Our electrical grids can be a symbol of progress again — if we imbue the entire system with digital intelligence. The decisions made today about the world’s electricity networks will impact our lives for decades to come. What this requires is perpetual collaboration amongst the ecosystem, and leveraging IT smartly to switch on to a bright future.
By Dhamodaran Ramakrishnan
The blogger is Director, Smarter Planet Solutions, IBM India/South Asia