Saturday, December 24, 2011

Shunglu Panel report and Smart Grid Plans

RAPDRP Program Implementation is currently going on. The Shunglu Panel report on the financial condition of the DISCOM's is now out. The Panel has commented on the progress on R-APDRP in many states that have started implementing Part A. The Panel clearly indicates why the financial condition of the DISCOM's are bad, and also suggest many ways forward.

Given the poor financial situation, it is very important that we focus on getting the Part A and Part B of R-APDRP to be effectively implemented, before venturing out on ambitious smart grid programs. It is time, we stop tax payer money to be paid for funding these programs and focus equivocally on bringing financial stability to these utilities. We should take all steps possible to make that happen. And the data of private utilities and some of the franchises show that good management of the metering, billing and collection, together with better customer service and reliable power has enabled many of these privatized utilities to perform better. The example of Torrent Power in Bhiwandi investing capex to upgrade the network and the results are especially highlighted by Shunglu Panel report.

Given the serious nature of the Distribution Sector and how it is impacting the entire Industry, it is very clear that, our focus should be on improving the financial viability of the DISCOM's and have whole hearted focus on Part B of the R-APDRP, ensure these investments are rightly made, the Results of Part A and Part B are realized, together with improved billing and collection.

If some part of the Part A plan has not worked well in a given DISCOM, do not wait for that to be fixed, but to start utilizing the systems that are working. If one starts getting the metering data from the DT's and Feeder's and start utilizing that to make operation decisions, even in a rudimentary way, DISCOM's will start seeing tangible benefits. Together with this, if offline studies are made and use the Part B Investment judiciously one will see significant improvements in the losses. The reference to IT Outsourcing in DISCOM's should be taken very seriously, since it is high time that the DISCOM's start managing and taking over the systems that they have bought and not dependent on outsourcing of their entire operations, till they reach a level of maturity internally in understanding and benefiting from IT, before they can effectively manage outsourced IT systems, that really deliver tangible results.

However the current trend of changing the goal post to Smart Grid and expecting it to be the solution for the sector is worrying. I believe we should let only profit making / low AT&C loss utilities to venture into Smart Grid Initiatives and especially let PGCIL / NTPC etc., to take the lead than overload the current DISCOM's, who still have to realize the benefits of R-APDRP. One of the critical requirements to fund a utility's Smart Grid Pilot should be the track record of the utility on Project Implementations and IT Adoption, for those who are struggling in implementing Part A of APDRP should not be provided with Smart Grid Pilot Projects.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

National policy for Open Standards notified - Impact on Power Sector

GoI Ministry of Information Technology has notified the National Policy on Open Standards. The policy defines the use of Open Standards in a set of e-Governance projects, that involve the interaction between government departments and citizens, between departments and certain other categories.

Power sector historically has most of its operational software are proprietary, while the communication and integration portions where based on open standards. Of late, there is more and more focus on IEC 61968 / IEC 61970 standards and the NIST focus in US on Inter-operability enabling a set of open standards till the enterprise level. However these necessarily do not get covered under open standards as specified in the policy, especially with respect to a whole set of software that are being used for the R-APDRP.

Will the software and automation vendors in the power sector be willing to open up their software and technology IP as required by the open source requirements is a big question. Will they open up their patents as required and make it royalty free?. It is important that the CEA, CBIP and BIS look into these issues and frame their own standards as it applies to power sector.


The Hindu National policy for Open Standards notified

Saturday, March 27, 2010

DCU in R-APDRP - Issues and Concerns

Many states in R-APDRP have specified Data Concentrator Units for meter data acquisition from Sub-Station meters, which also is required to have Digital I/O's as well as Analog Inputs. The primary objective of the IT Portion of R-APDRP was to collect meter data for energy audit and develop the base line for losses. The DCU is an ideal solution for sub-station meter data acquisition alone. Once IO's are added and remote monitoring and control of substation equipment is also added as a must functionality of the DCU there are some important issues that arise.

The key aspect is the right product for this requirement. RTU's in Sub-stations are ideally suited for real-time monitoring and control requirements in sub-station including reading of MFT's which are essentially meter data. RTU's are designed for sub-station IO applications, are more rugged, support communication protocols like IEC 101/104 which are suitable for tele-metery applications in power systems.

However, once a Meter Data Concentrator is also expected to do an RTU function, with IO's, is as rugged as an RTU, should support real-time control, and also support real-time meter reading from Energy Meters, the requirements expected of the DCU changes. One of the most critical aspects in any device that is deployed in a sub-station is the EMI/EMC levels they support. Most Metering DCU's and Industrial Gateways are not suited for Sub-station requirements. Most of them have isolation at the communication and IO ports which are far lower than required in an sub-station environment. Most of metering DCU do not support the telemetry protocols required in a SCADA/DMS scenario. Expecting metering protocols like Modbus in R-APDRP to be used for remote control from an IT system of an automation asset like sub-stations would not be the right approach.

The right way to approach this would be to specify the right DCU requirements so that it can run-in a Sub-Station. In my opinion some of the key requirements would be the hardware specifications such that they can withstand the sub-station environment and the communication requirement such that the metering and control functions work seamlessly, for future applications as well.
  • EMI/EMC Specifications that are atleast comparable to IEC 60870-5-2 for RTU applications both for IO and communication ports. Atleast +/- 2 kV Surge protection and 8/15 kV Contact / Air Discharge and +/- 4 kV fast transient support are critical for the product to with stand sub-station conditions in the long run.
  • Protocol support for both metering and automation requirements - DLMS/COSEM, Modbus, IEC 60870-5-104. If remote control is required, then it should be through IEC 104 protocol and should support a future integration with SCADA System.
There has been incidence of many products failing in the field, because of lack of isolation of their serial ports damaging or burning the DCU or the Modem connected to the Meter. The right need for R-APDRP is a DCU that is a sub-station rugged meter data concentrator. So, it is always better to restrict to this specific requirement.

If IO's are required for any specific business process of an Utility, it would be better to provide for them using an external IO to the DCU, which can be controlled by a protocol, and if possible, provide for Sub-station hardened FRTU's with minimal expansion and IEC 101/IEC 104 protocols, so that in future when a SCADA system is implemented, the same IO's can be re-used, and in the interim, the DCU can be used for very rare / but critical controls.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

IT & SCADA Integration in R APDRP

IT and SCADA Integration is a key objective and a critical function that has to be achieved for R-APDRP to deliver benefits to the utilities and finally to the tax payers whose money is being used to fund this modernization program. However the conventional approach most IT companies and system integrators use for integration is a point to point integration. One will find specifications and RFP's mentioning integration methodologies to specify SQL, RDMS tables, CSV Files, XLS export etc., The IT approach to integration using database in different forms is the very reason why most integrations fail or result in exhaustive maintenance budgets and progammer lock in to these integrations.

Utilities in India which are loss making already are not at the technology savvy enterprise with expertise to understand and deliver the level of specification or ugprade mechanisms for the future, other than what gets specified in the RAPDRP SRS. However point to point integration will create future problems for these people once the consultants move away. For these utilities to be able to really understand and use the systems that are point to point integrated and later upgrade itself will be a point of failure of the entire investments. So it is important that one considers standard based Integration as specified by various IEC 61970 / IEC 61968 standards and CIM/XML models for Integration. These models and standards provide common methodologies for interfacing, with CIM/XML adapters being available for most RDBMS, OPC and ICCP systems, it would be a good idea to utilize these for Integration and model exchange.

This will enable the key aspect of Smart Grid focus, Inter-operability at grid level between all systems, and this will also enable the Indian R APDRP program to not only benefit today, but tomorrow as well as be a key driver in Indias Smart Grid foray in the future.

R-APDRP Challenges

The Restructured Accelerated Power Distribution Reforms Program of the Government of India is an ambitious program aimed at achieving significant loss reduction of the distribution utilities in the public sector. The program has two parts. The Part A, aims at using IT to create base line data and Part B aims at stengthening the electrical network for reducing losses and improving the level of service delivery and quality of power to customers.

The program is bereft with challenges, primarily because of the aggressive timelines set as well as the scale of the program aimed at all the utilities in India. The scale and the aggressive timelines together with use of IT in a big way in the Distribution side are all new to the people on the ground, and hence pulling it of managerially is a big challenge.

It is easy to say that IT will create baseline data in itself. It is also naive to think that IT System Integrators on their own in 18 Months can deliver a fully integrated and functional system and the Utility can take over and realize gains soon after. Without the utility first understanding the scale and size of the program, the tremendous expectation from it to deliver and use the investment properly and taking steps to do so, the programs success will be limited.

IT system integrators in India who have won many of these projects do not have ground up expertise in implementing such large projects in India or outside. Primarily in developed markets where they normally work, their key role in utility projects have been maintenance or upgrade or pilots in new technology areas. There are never such ground up, large scale programs. And in developed countries each of these programs are given more time to deliver. In India TCS, Wipro, Infosys and HCL who are active bidders in the R-APDRP still do not understand the operational complexity of creating and delivering a system and expect their GIS, NSP and MDASP to deliver and their Internal IT team to deliver and as long as specifications are clear, delivery is a straight forward process. However this is never so with Utility customers.

In my decade plus experience in Indian power sector, i have always been perplexed at a large number of Utility engineers apathy, while i have been amazed at some engineers knowledge and depth, and the domain expertise and knowledge they have gained over the years are un-matched. Without being able to build upon that knowledge base and deliver, the R-APDRP program also might end up being a bonanza for IT and Automation equipment manufacturers, but not for the Utility. To be able to make it successful, the IT System Integrators who won these projects need to consider each of their projects not from a P&L point of view, but from a long term domain competency and technical competency development point of view, put their best engineers and managers, dig deep over a 3-5 year period and work hard, understand the complexity of integration, be flexible in customization, take the customer into confidence and invest a lot in training, take risks for using standards for integration rather than point to point integration, taking losses if it is required to deliver the right system, and make it work for the utility. Under R-APDRP, if India gets one or two state success stories, i would consider this to be a great success.