Can Big Data Analytics Help Power Up India?

Big data analytics. Image source -

Power shortage is a major issue in India. The whole world noticed the massive power outage in the country in July 2012. 620 million people in 22 states went without power, sending powerful messages for the modernization of the power infrastructure throughout the country.

The root of the power problem

Numerous industry experts have laid emphasis on the 30 percent of total power generated that eventually gets lost in distribution and transmission. Theft and leakages are the main culprits in this loss.

There is an understanding that the deployment of a smart grid empowered with smart meters can eventually plug the gaps. The government only recently approved this change, with pilots for smart grids across the country. The implementation was faster in the private sector with Reliance infrastructure and Tata power relying on smart grid and smart meter projects.

How do smart meters and smart grids change the power play?

The change to smarter technology means that the volume of data generated is consequently higher. The volume and the frequency of data is owed to the smart grids, the smart meters, network controls, sensors and other grid devices.

The sheer volume requires analytics better suited to the future opportunities of self-service analytics, customer pre-paid cards and distributed generation. Big Data Analytics is best suited to this domain and can transform the power issues in India according to the Vice President of Technology Sales Consulting Oracle Corporation in Asia Pacific, Sundar Ram.

Understanding the power shortage in India

The electricity generation capacity in India is ranked fifth largest in the world. The power shortage therefore is not for lack of production. The outdated and inept infrastructure for power is not designed to meet the growing demands of the industries and the general public. Since Independence, India has always been in the midst of some form or other of power failures and outages due to grid failures and black out scenarios.

The black out of 2012 was due to a simultaneous grid failure in the Northern, North-Eastern and Eastern grids. The country has allocated 15 percent and often more for the power sector. Despite the available funds, the country has not seen any significant alleviation in the power shortage issue.

Several industry experts state blame the power theft, under-performing private distribution agencies, skewed subsidies that benefit only the rich farmers, bankrupt state-run electricity and an acute shortage of coal as responsible for the power shortage.

The loss of power is calculated as the Aggregate Technical and Commercial or AT&C losses is pinned at nearly 30%. Further there are a few states where the AT&C levels reach 70% mainly due to faulty meters, power theft and antiquated grids. The Planning Commission conceded that the delivery process rather than the whole system is to blame.

Modernizing the antiquated power delivery system

The energy crisis that has plagued the country since Independence can only be adequately addressed through a modernization and renovation of the power plants. The private sector providers have become the pioneers in the adoption of the smart meters and smart grid technologies.

The system in existence has been around for over 100 years. When it has been stable and reliable for this long a period, adopting new changes can be really hard. The traditional systems however, have outgrown their feasibility. The systems cannot handle the volume and frequency of data that will emerge from the smart technologies like meters, grid devices, sensors and other such network controls.

Therefore, the IT infrastructure in place has to be restructured with tools and systems that can accommodate the future technologies such as demand response, customer prepay, self-service analytics, distributed generation and real-time operational control.

How big data can make a difference

Globally there is a sweeping change with regard to the kind of energy that consumers are demanding. Energy that doesn’t undermine or ruin the environment is preferable for a large part of the global populace. In such a scenario, the financial stakeholders are also looking for operational efficiency.

This operational efficiency can only be achieved through infrastructure replacement. The pressures that are forcing a re-examination of the overall business process right from manufacture till billing and settlement are manifold.

Speaking about the pressures on the system, Sundar Ram said, “Regulators require compliance and detailed reporting on operations. Operators seek action on smart grid and smart metering initiatives that add intelligence to infrastructure. Customers seek choice and convenience – at affordable costs.”

The smart meter and smart grid options

The smart meter and smart grid options address some of the pressures and the challenges that the power supply chain faces. The power supply chain in India is already deploying some major improvements and modernizations. The distribution companies now have access to a larger volume of data and data that they have hitherto never had access to. The information can help the distribution companies perform better and optimize their business operations as they can access, analyze, manage and deliver the information which will also help enhance the customer relationships.

A continuing analysis on the data will show patterns, trends and anomalies which will give the company an opportunity to take decisions for both the supply and the demand. Real-time action and decision making is now possible because of analysis.

Integration of data

Further integration of data into power outages and distribution management will help capabilities like load management switching and distribution. Through the information, protocols to move customers to alternate feeders in the eventuality of over capacity can be put in place. The granular use of utilities and the consumption pattern between districts, neighborhoods and cities can be gleaned from analysis. This analysis will then help facilitate better load forecasting and supply planning within the service territories.

The levels of satisfaction desired by regulators and customers can be reached and surpassed through the use of Big Data. For example, an integration of advanced metering, network management systems and grid devices will help distribution companies address power outages and other conditions prevalent in the territory. The stakeholders and customers can therefore receive real-time information about the provision of network condition in the area of interest.

The power of customization

Customization is the new area that Big Data Analytics can unlock. For example, from the perspective of the consumer, usage patterns can be analyzed from the meter. This information when relayed to the consumer will help them make informed choices from market driven and customized pricing offers.

Real-time analytics can pinpoint the exact location and problem when an overload, network problem or capacity is reached. The base for this information is already in place as numerous companies have geo-spatial information on demand from their vehicles, diagrams and equipment. A maintenance person can be sent over the minute any issue arises. As the analysis gets better, maintenance can help prevent issues like power outages.

Where markets are already mature, Big Data solutions can make a difference by determining the weaknesses and the strengths of the competitor. This information will enable the distribution companies to target marketing programs towards a specific set of consumers and exploit competitive strongholds.

Renewable energy and Big Data Analytics

The widespread adoption of renewable energy sources is also easier with the adoption of Big Data Analytics. The power generation systems that rely on traditional energy are built on large pieces of land and therefore have to be built far away from the demand sources. Newer energy sources like wind and solar energy are more versatile and can be built much closer to the demand sources. Sundar Ram spoke about how Big Data could help when he said, “Big Data solutions can look at all of factors of a city, from standard utility ones like load profiles and capacity to more unstructured ones from city demographics.”

He also said, “Traditional utility data, demographic information and new sensor data can therefore be combined to provide the optimal investment scenarios necessary to meet growing renewable energy portfolio requirements. This can then be used to make smarter investment decisions.”

The highest growth in electric vehicles in one building over the next twenty years can be predicted with a combination of data on wealth distribution in office spaces, electric vehicle population history and commuter congestion with capacity and current load profiles. This data can be used for other decisions like portfolio planning for the placement of solar panels. The panels can help source cleaner and cheaper energy from closer locales to charge the new vehicles, thereby saving on transportation costs from remote locations.

The promises that Big Data is making is significant. They also address appropriately atleast a small fraction of the power issues that India is facing. Big Data is an opportunity like no other to transform our utilities transmission that should not be missed. A power generation system that is optimized and a distribution system combined with Big Data Analytics can further the new power generation to adequately address the power deficit in India.

Oracle’s interest in Big Data Analytics

Sundar Ram was of the opinion that it is still the early stages in the adoption of the technology. However, as smart metering and smart grids are introduced in India, significantly larger volumes of data is a natural consequence. The private sector more than the public sector is realizing the importance of the adoption of big data in driving down operational costs, improving efficiencies and increasing revenue generated.

He was quoted as saying, “oracle has mission-critical applications to support the need for emerging ‘smart’ business processes such as universal interval billing, customer demand response and conservation programs, better and faster leak and theft detection, net metering, and electric vehicle recharging.”

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