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Updated: August 26, 2012 11:54 IST

A smart answer to future energy needs

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Suhail Ahmed Khan
Suhail Ahmed Khan

Did you know that the amount of energy consumed in the world doubles every 20 years? Knowing how the world is running out of its energy sources, there is little chance that we would meet the demand in future.

This demand for power is just one face of the problem; the other serious issue is carbon emission. India alone emits about 6,000 megatons of carbon every year, which is high considering its geographical size and forest cover. If this continues, the life expectancy of the population will come down drastically.

Except for minor changes, the electrical grid has remained the same for over 140 years. Now, however, the structure, engineering and objectives of the world’s power systems are undergoing dramatic changes. Driving forces such as climate change, novel market participants (such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) and increasing demand for energy have led to the development of what is being referred to as the smart grid.

What is a smart grid?

Smart grid, in layman terms, can be defined as an evolutionary form of the traditional power grid which has a direct duplex communication between the distributor and the consumer. Here, the power distributor can monitor the consumer’s consumption of power round the clock. Through this, if the consumer’s usage pattern shows a flaw, such as overloading of voltage by a particular appliance, the distributor can simply ask the consumer to turn off that particular appliance. Many observers believe that the extent of change and its impact on societies could be on the same scale as the inception of the grid itself, and it will affect every single part of the power utility industry.

The diverse ways of harnessing energy will be a notable driver for the new business model. For example, while the harnessing of wind, solar and hydel energy are common and more cost-effective, they have different operational, economic and control characteristics than conventional power plants.

International acceptance

Around the world, governments and standards bodies at all levels are considering or adopting various foundational elements of the smart energy ecosystem. The European Commission has created an initiative, European Technology Platforms, for creating electricity networks of the future.

In the U.S., the National Institute of Standards and Technology is leading the effort for developing a framework of smart grid standards for device and system interoperability. China has announced an aggressive framework for smart grid deployment and is supporting it with billions of dollars.

India’s first

And, finally, in India, guess which city is leading the race to develop a sustainable smart grid system? Bangalore, of course. The Bangalore Electricity Supply Company Ltd., or Bescom, has just approved a smart grid system to be deployed at the city’s IT hub, Electronics City. This is going to be the first smart grid in India — and that is something to be proud of.

A smarter grid consisting of these new or improved grid-connected devices will enable the smart energy ecosystem to offer many new capabilities that respond to, as well as drive, changing consumer behaviour and attitude toward energy.

(The author is an engineer and was part of the ‘Smart Grid for India’ team)

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