Following a period of impressive and continuing growth, the Indian power system has taken its place as one of the largest in the world. The nation has made huge strides forward to increase access to electricity, introducing ambitious and inspiring reforms to improve affordability, security and sustainability (e.g. growth in solar). What perhaps is even more impressive is that India has built one synchronized national grid to serve the entire nation.
An unexpected event: #9pm9min lights-out
The Prime Minister of India made a passionate appeal to all 1.3 billion citizens to switch off their electric lights and light candles for nine minutes at 9 PM on 5th April 2020. The event was a symbolic gesture to show the nation’s resolve and commitment towards fighting the pandemic with light and hope. However, it meant that India’s power grid operators faced a huge challenge – with less than 48 hours to prepare, how would the grids withstand the variation in power demand? In line with Prime Minister’s call, the ‘#9pm9min’ event received an overwhelming pan-India response.
Perspectives from India’s grid operators
We invited leaders from India’s grid operators, Seema Gupta, Director (Operations) at Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) – owners of over half of India’s transmission network, and KVS Baba, Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of Power System Operation Corporation Limited (POSOCO) – responsible for the real-time operations of the grid – to share their perspectives. In separate interviews, they opened up the on building the national grid, the power of technology, and how they managed to keep the grid stable during the extraordinary event.
Q. Both PGCIL and POSOCO played key roles in achieving India’s mission of ‘One Nation’ – ‘One Grid’ – ‘One Frequency’ successfully. How big is the grid operation and what are the challenges you face?
Seema Gupta (S.G.), POWERGRID: The Indian Power Grid is one of the largest synchronous transmission grids in the world. Of this, 163,000 circuit kms of transmission line – enough to encircle the Earth's diameter at the Equator thirteen times - 248 substations, and a transformation capacity of about 4,120,000 MVA, has been established by POWERGRID. POWERGRID’s role has been to plan, execute, own and maintain high voltage transmission links across India.
This is very different to what the grid looked like two to three decades ago, where it was five regional grids connected by back-to-back High Voltage DC links with limited power exchange. Inter-regional High Voltage AC links were established to synchronously inter-connect the regional grids progressively with the final region – the Southern Region – added on 31st December 2013, thereby achieving the mission of ‘One Nation’ – ‘One Grid’ – ‘One Frequency’. By synchronising all regional grids, India as a whole, is now better placed to benefit from optimization of highly distributed resources.
Connecting such a geographically dispersed country comes with its own challenges, such as efficiently transmitting power from resource-rich regions to load-centric regions. The establishment of 765kV EHVAC and 800 kV HVDC links – allowing for more energy supply across the Grid – has helped to meet this challenge and in future, we will look to employ higher voltage transmission links to meet growing power transmission requirements. In addition, POWERGRID has invested in Voltage Sourced Convertor (VSC) based HVDC technology; the first such link is expected to be commissioned by 2021.
Mr. KVS Baba (KVS Baba), POSOCO: At POSOCO, we have the responsibility of operating India’s power grid, managing the inter-state transmission of power to utilities across India, plus operating India’s electricity market through coordinating thousands of entities to balance demand and generate energy at any moment of the day. The Indian power grid has over 370 GW of generation capacity with highest demand reaching around 182 GW.
Technology has been a key enabler of reliable operation of the national grid. The visualization and situational awareness introduced by the state-of-the-art SCADA/EMS at regional and national load despatch centres, have allowed operators to understand real-time conditions, see early evidence of emerging grid problems, and better diagnose, implement and evaluate remedial actions to protect system reliability.
Q. India has tremendous potential in renewable energy, especially wind and solar. How do you see POWERGRID integrating them into the grid, further improving the environmental aspects as well as grid resilience at the same time?
S.G.: In the past ten years, the share of renewable energy (RE) in our generation profile has increased three-fold, growing from 7% in 2008 to about 21% in 2019. It is expected that by 2022, about 175 GW of RE capacity shall be installed and India shall stand as the third largest producer of renewable energy, behind China and the US. To integrate more renewable energy into the transmission grid, POWERGRID has created Green Energy Corridors to transmit renewable power, and 11 Renewable Energy Management Centres have also been set up across India for forecasting of renewable power. Furthermore, a network of Flexible AC Transmission Systems (FACTS) devices in the form of STATCOMs and SVCs has been set up at various nodes to prevent and reduce reactive power deviation in the network.
Q. As India realises its renewable potential, what challenges is POSOCO facing to accommodate increasing renewable energy integration?
KVS Baba: Wind and solar energy generation has indeed increased steadily over recent years. Take last year (2019) for instance: annual wind generation grew by around 5% to 65 TWh while the annual solar generation increased by 28% to 50 TWh. Combined, wind and solar energy penetration is expected to rise to 35% by 2030 – which can cause challenges for grid operators. Large-scale penetration of renewable generation increases uncertainty and volatility, creating hazards such as potential grid instabilities resulting from diminishing inertia, as well as loss of visibility and control of the behind-the-meter resources. Additionally, day-to-day forecasting and scheduling of over 7.5 GW of renewables at inter-state level by Regional Load Despatch Centers (RLDCs) has been challenging. To overcome the numerous issues that we’re faced with – alongside other measures – we have harnessed the transmission flexibility provided by HVDCs to better integrate renewable energy into the grid.
Eleven Renewable Energy Management Centres (REMCs) co-located with the State Load Despatch Centres (SLDCs) in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat & Rajasthan; and in RLDCs at Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi; and at the NLDC, Delhi, were commissioned in February 2020. Presently, 55 GW of renewable (Solar and Wind) is being monitored through the eleven REMCs. REMCs serve as dedicated RE management systems to facilitate safe & secure grid operation in the area of responsibility. REMCs are equipped with Forecasting and Scheduling Tool & Real Time Monitoring of RE generation which enables safe, secure and optimal operations of the overall grid.
Q. Having established the one-nation grid plus connectivity with neighbouring country grids, how do you see India becoming a key player in establishing a transnational regional grid?
S.G.: In recent years, India has created several transnational links with about 5 GW cross-border power transfer capacity with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, and more are planned for the future. Interconnection makes sense as well: due to time differences within regions, countries experiencing hours of peak demand can be supported by the countries having off peak hours. It would lead to greater utilization of resources and provide greater energy security.
For instance, considering India’s position in the middle of South East Asia and Central Asia, the country’s power grid can act as a regional bridge between the two regions, helping to form a Trans-Asian Grid. However, to leverage such an opportunity, the geopolitical challenges will have to be managed with a collaborative approach.
Q. How do you see digital technologies and asset management helping operational elements such as real-time power flow, control, and protection?
KVS Baba: Greater access to digital services has led primarily to a greater use of data points, which we’re able to harness to ensure excellence for our core functions – real-time operations, market monitoring, and planning and forecasting. New products and services such as Real-Time Markets introduced since 1st June 2020 and the National Open Access Registry under progress, have both been made possible as a result of the data intensive Indian electricity market. On 1st April 2019, the pilot for Security Constrained Economic Despatch, was implemented by POSOCO. Robust, resilient, self-healing solution engines developed in-house run every 15 minutes. These determine the optimal schedule for over 60 Nos. of Inter-State Generation Station having 60 GW capacity without any human intervention in the entire process, enabling significant reduction in the overall generation cost.
Q. On a similar note, what does POWERGRID see as the key steps to end-to-end digitalization connecting with the system operation in real-time?
S.G.: POWERGRID has established a National Transmission Asset Management Centre at Manesar as a centralised remote operation centre. Among the key technologies integrated through the NTAMC project are the Remote Accessibility of Substation Protection Systems, Automatic Fault Analysis System for real-time fault data analysis and the Video Monitoring System for substation monitoring. In terms of the Digital Grid, POWERGRID has implemented the latest “Process bus” based automation, paving the way for Digital Substations and end-to-end digitalization. Further, application of digital technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and digital twins would help to ease critical operation of the grid evolving with autonomous operation.
Q. The ultimate goal is power 24/7, even in the most remote regions. What type of collaboration, technologies and operation management do you foresee POSOCO implementing to achieving this target?
KVS Baba: Achieving around-the-clock power to all areas demands a wholly joined-up approach. This starts with the Forum of Load Despatchers, a coordination forum for State, Regional and National Dispatch Centres, where best practice can be shared and aspects such as the proper implementation of grid codes and standards from all levels can be discussed. Operationally, every level would need to pass its demand forecast to the next higher level which would use the data provided to prepare its own demand forecast. With this in mind, implementing Phasor Measurement Units from the distribution level would help in making real-time assessments at all levels.
Q. How do you hope to achieve 24/7 power everywhere when considering the challenges posed by diverse trends such as renewable energies, electric vehicles and data centres?
S.G.: We see overcoming the unpredictable nature of new energy trends as a three-step approach: better adoption of technology, utilizing advanced forecasting tools, and leveraging the potential of Battery-based Energy Storage Systems (BESS) and decentralization from one unified grid to several microgrids. These microgrids can be individual in nature, yet by clustering them together, a single dynamic grid can evolve. Creation of these microgrids would help remote areas to meet their power demands locally. Thus, the grid would move from centralization to decentralization mode, while operating as “One Grid”.
Q. How have you taken to protecting your assets through cybersecurity?
KVS Baba: Protection of mission-critical functions and their data requires unique cyber-physical security skills and advanced tools such as big data analytics to detect and mitigate an attack early in the attacker’s kill chain. Effective responses to cyber threats rely on intelligent devices and a strong communication network to provide the necessary data in a timely manner. In the future, cloud-based services to augment the capabilities of an integrated security operations centre may be needed. Certainly, moving forward, I see cybersecurity certification becoming even more important when assessing vendors to work with.
S.G.: We have implemented a collaborative, “People First” approach to cybersecurity, engaging with multiple stakeholders to create the best outcome for all involved in the Grid. We are already certified with ISO 27001. For technical vulnerabilities, we have engaged with Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) and experts in the area for necessary corrective measures, as well as working with associated government agencies to meet regulatory requirements. Simultaneously, we also work in tandem with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to take joint responsibility for the security of the grid, encouraging and empowering our partners to continuously improve their internal processes and strengthen cybersecurity awareness.
Q. Finally, congratulations for smoothly managing the ‘lights off’ (nine-minute) Covid-19 vigil. In addition to the coordinated planning, what grid features and technology supported you for this moment?
S.G.: Lights-off, as well as being a very important event, marked a time where we all came together in the face of this pandemic. It was also truly unique, due to the rapid load drop followed by a sudden, steep load rise as people switched off and then switched on their lights. To prepare for this unique event, mock drills were carried out one day in advance to ensure a swift response to any contingencies. Off the back of ‘lights-off’, we now feel more confident to tackle unplanned situations of the same nature. Integration of FACTS devices (SVCs and STATCOMs), Wide Area Management Systems (WAMS) and Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs) across the nation has massively increased our confidence in how resilient the Indian grid is to handle critical load changes.
KVS Baba: First of all, thank you for the kind words; I was very pleased and proud the event passed without any instability in the grid. It was really a combination of a number of elements. During the “#9pm9min” event, India’s power system witnessed in a few minutes 31,000 MW of demand ramp down and then up. This is unprecedented in the history of any power system in the world. The variation in demand recorded during the event was of the order of 4000 MW per minute – nearly 20 times the normal load changes encountered on a daily basis. It is pertinent to mention that flexible hydro generators provided about 70% of the ramping requirement during the event. The event was successfully managed by all power sector stakeholders with a high level of meticulous planning, preparations and close coordination. The flexibility in generation resources such as hydro, gas, coal and on transmission front including HVDCs and STATCOMs were harnessed to maximum extent.
Looking forward to the future…
According to Brookings India and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, India’s demand for electricity is expected to near triple by 2040, meaning that investment in infrastructure must continue on its determined and dynamic pathway. Furthermore, the nation is continuing to strive for ambitious growth targets in renewables as a share of the overall energy mix. And what’s especially impressive, is how India has been growing and improving simultaneously – and critically, without sacrificing reliability.
The “#9pm9min” event went smoothly – a solid testimony to how India is successfully incorporating state-of-the-art technology and ensuring that its investments are fit for the future – by anticipating the needs of tomorrow. On a global level, this proven and sustainable approach will enable India to play a central role within the interconnected regional grid developments.
Seema Gupta (S.G.)
“The future of the grid lies in adoption of new technologies such as big data analytics for predictive maintenance, artificial intelligence technologies, use of robotics and VR-AR augmented kits for better O&M of transmission network.”
Mr. KVS Baba (KVS Baba)
“Forecasting of load and generation (including RE) are thrust areas to manage uncertainties. POSOCO is focused on improving grid resilience and making a self-healing grid to adapt to natural calamities and climate change phenomena.”