While the July blackout saw public sector utility services come crumbling down in the Northern and Eastern parts of India, the private sector fared remarkably well. The Indian information technology industry, which accounts for 7.5 percent of the gross domestic product, continued work without a blink.
But if you think this sector is equipped with sophisticated power management systems, you are wrong. Complex software coding, call centers, and research and development activities for large multinational clients continue uninterrupted thanks to old-fashioned diesel-operated generators.
Obviously, technology has not come to India's aid in the power sector. Not yet, but a smart grid initiative by the Ministry of Power has invited proposals for eight pilot projects aimed at improving efficiency in the power sector. This has sparked competitive efforts to integrate information and communication technologies into the electricity transmission and distribution network. Some of the more interesting include:
The Electronic City Pilot: The Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM) is working on a smart grid project in the 332-acre Electronic City campus -- home to over 150 IT companies, including Infosys, Wipro, and HCL Technologies since 2009. The $20 million project includes automated meter infrastructure, smart distribution, demand control, building or home automation, renewable (rooftop solar panel) integration, and plug-in electric vehicle bays.
Garia Pilot to Track Power Theft: The West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company (WBSEDC) undertook a pilot to track unauthorized consumption of power on a real-time basis through smart grid technologies in 2010. The $80 million WBSEDC project covers 50,000 consumers who consume 45MW power in Garia in South Kolkata.
Puducherry -- Powergrid Pilot for Advance Metering Infrastructure (AMI): In March 2012, the union territory of Puducherry and the Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) signed an MoU to start an AMI pilot in Division I of the electricity department. PGCIL would bear all the costs. If successful, the pilot will be extended to a Smart City project, covering other services like water supply, health, education, government, transportation, and buildings.
Enterprises are also waking up to the opportunity in converting India's legacy power systems into an intelligent network with the Restructured Accelerated Power Development Reforms Program:
- Siemens has been given a Euro 18.5 million order to install Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Technology for power distribution networks across eight cities, from the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited.
- Reliance Energy managed Northern Electric Supply Corporation in Odisha has conducted a successful pilot with Nextech Power Solutions' HameshaON (Always on) monitoring technology.
- Cisco and Wipro have joined hands with Hindustan Construction Corporation to build India's first sustainable, intelligent, and connected city, Lavasa. It will be powered entirely through a micro grid -- an island of power generation and consumption.
In short, India is taking baby steps towards a smart grid.
Just imagine what that means to CIOs in government, technology, and power. As smart meters, GIS, and home automation devices pour in data, you need to hone your analytical skills and get ready to strategize. ICT is no longer a product in your organization, it is a process. That means you are involved in needs assessment, design, prototyping, business case studies, deployment, integration, scaling... phew! Rejoice, the budget for IT will finally go up, but prepare for increased security concerns as well -- the cyber security of SCADA systems is a joke.
This is not wishful thinking. Industry estimates are that the Indian smart grid market will be worth $18.5 billion with the communications/IT layer alone accounting for $5.3 billion by 2015. Meaning a huge untapped market for intelligent devices like sensors, automated and remote meter reading equipment, high-voltage AC and DC systems, flexible AC transmission systems, and intelligent communication networks like WiFi, zigbee, and z-wave.
Yet, despite the progress, save for a handful of companies, the IT sector cannot be called an early adaptor of smart or green technologies to save power and increase efficiency. A Cushman & Wakefield report sounds the alarm on the risk to global datacenters, given the poor power situation in India. Perhaps it is time for the CIOs in India's IT companies to take a closer look at renewable sources like solar? Regardless of their choices, technologies companies and CIOs need to take long-term steps to insure their energy supply because while India is taking steps, they have a long way to go.