IT interventions in Power Distribution Reforms in India : Adoption of New Technologies and Integration challenges

 Executive Summary

 The current power distribution reforms being adopted countrywide is spawning innovative uses of IT applications using state-of-the-art technologies. The need for automation and integration of inter-related business processes is driving the creation of a robust IT infrastructure spanning the complete business value chain of power distribution.  To handle the increasing complexities of integration and ensuing challenges, there is a growing focus on the adoption of standards-based technologies. This paper discusses some of the important IT interventions in power distribution sector in India, using cutting-edge technologies in GIS, Network Analysis, Energy Audit and Customer Care.

 

Introduction

 

The spate of power reforms in India has drawn focus on the adoption an integrated IT strategy across the distribution value chain to collect and establish the baseline data for achieving mainly the following objectives:

 

(a)     Reduction of ATC (aggregate technical and commercial) losses 

(b)     Improving process efficiency by automating various utility processes

(c)     Enhancing customer services

(d)     Total energy audit and accounting

(e)     Improving revenues through sustainable business model

 

With funding and technical guidelines now available for power sector reforms from Power Finance Corporation, under Ministry of Power, the Indian utilities are now embracing a standards-based approach to infuse new technologies for enterprise business process automation, employing global best practices in project implementation and system integration. Information Technology is performing the role of an enabler, driving business process reforms, through process re-engineering, automation, capacity building and system integration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geographical Information System (GIS)

 

GIS is being used for a number of applications like distribution network mapping, consumer database indexing, network analysis and load flow studies, asset management, outage management, energy audit and customer services. Spatial data analysis is helping GIS users to analyze patterns in spatial data for MIS and Business Intelligence, with the intent to improve electrical network efficiency and customer services.  DGPS survey, mapping and digitization of electrical network, consumer mapping and superimposition of the geospatial base map with related attribute data on satellite imagery is now a standard business practice in many India utilities.

 

However, the main challenge faced by the utilities is integrating GIS components with core distribution processes like Connection management, Meter data management, Billing and Collections, Customer Services, Network analysis and Energy audit. This emphasizes the need for adoption of Service-oriented architecture (SOA) and using standard middleware Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) with parameterized business rules for integrating GIS with other utility applications. GIS-based simulation studies are helping to evaluate the impact of network reconfiguration, re-conductoring and network optimization. Optimization of network design by way of capacitor placement, protective device coordination and network corrective actions are now possible with GIS-based network analysis, thus facilitating load flow studies and voltage regulation in each feeder section and taking suitable correcting actions for overloading and technical losses.

 

However, the process of GIS-based network mapping and consumer indexing is fraught with challenges associated with geospatial data collection from DGPS field survey and door-to-door survey to establish the unique electrical identity of the consumers mapped to the distribution network. Ground truth verification and post-processing of geospatial data sometimes require multiple visits to the site and data re-collection. Often the legacy data on electrical network like single-line diagrams and asset attributes are neither properly documented nor easily available with the Utility. 

The identification labels on electrical assets are sometimes not legible or not available at all. The system integrator (SI) has no choice but to rely on its own ground data collection and verification with the concerned utility staff.  Also when new electrical assets are installed on the network, the utility is required to provide details immediately to SI for undertaking DGPS survey, as this has major dependency on the timelines for completion. There may be a situation where assets already surveyed may require replacement for operational reasons. In such cases, new attribute have to be collected and updated in the database. This requires coordinated effort between the Utility and SI. A change request has to be initiated by the utility, as per change management control procedures.

 

 

Network Analysis

 New techniques are now available to provide graphical analysis of distribution network with schematics highlighting attribute data for substation, connected feeders, DTs, circuit breakers, sectionalizers, auto-reclosers and capacitor placements.  The network analysis techniques use advanced algorithms for calculating phase imbalances, identifying low-voltage or overloaded sections, calculating section-wise loss levels and applying system optimization through network reconfiguration, shunt capacitor placements and series compensation. However, since network analysis process feeds on real time data, it poses a big challenge to the Utility, due to a chronic lack of trained manpower, ensuring timely updation of network data at regular intervals.

 

Energy Audit

 The advent of new technologies allows the Energy audit module to be seamlessly integra

ted with metering, billing and collection with minimal manual intervention. The module has to capture electrical network data, meter data and energy parameters for Feeder-wise and DT-wise loss calculation and further analysis to identify sections causing revenue leakages.  Therefore, 100% metering of consumers, substation feeders and distribution transformers is a major concern for total energy accounting. To implement seamless integration of the entire business processes with both the new systems and current legacy systems is seen as a major challenge, unless the utility chooses to discard the old systems completely. Another challenge is the legacy data migration, which requires cleansing, validating and transforming the legacy data in the required format compatible with the new systems.

 

Customer Care Centre (CCC)

 

This is of strategic importance from the point of view of providing customer services and ensuring statutory compliance for issuing new electrical connections, maintaining network operations and processing consumer complaints regarding electricity supply, installation and billing. Every utility has to abide by the standards of performance (SOP) in terms of quality and time for delivering customer services, as approved by the State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC). The aim is to harness technology to make customer services more transparent and speedier. Web Self Services (WSS) is a tool to provide customers a user-friendly interface to address their problems related to electricity supply and services. Both CCC and WSS have multiple intertrifaces with the utility’s business processes such as customer information system, asset management, maintenance management, network analysis and billing system. Seamless integration is a mammoth exercise to ensure business transactions and data interchange across modules, processing and analyzing data, handling exceptions and escalations and generating reports, within the acceptable time limit for customer services.

 

Data Extraction and Migration

 

Adoption of new technology and legacy data migration to the new system is an intensive exercise. Migration of legacy data from the existing system to the new system is one of major challenges of business process reforms. The legacy data of consumers, assets, billing and collections have be extracted, cleansed, rationalized, transformed and reconciled. Several iterations of mock conversions as per the data model have to be run and tested before proper migration. The challenge of data extraction, transformation, migration and integration with new applications can be circumvented with a proactive approach and active cooperation from the Utility domain experts.

 

Enterprise Application Integration

 

There is an intense time pressure to complete the GIS survey for data collection, processing and mapping of geospatial information of electrical network assets and consumers, and finally integrating with utility applications of Customer Services, MBC, AM/ MM, EA and Network Analysis. Integrating AMR data and developing APIs and plug-ins for different makes and models of energy meters – each with their own proprietary protocols – on a common Utility billing engine poses immense challenges. There is a fundamental requirement of a proper energy audit and accounting system by automating the distribution value chain on “meter-to-cash” concept. A high level of integration is required using enabling technologies and web services for timely and accurately recording, processing and mining of customer and meter data, commercial data and assets data.

 

To enable seamless integration of the entire business processes, the Utilities in India are relying on Service-oriented architecture (SOA) and configurable Middleware platform, based on open-standard Enterprise Service Bus (ESB). The process integration solution is designed for multi-tier, web-based implementation on parametric, rule-based engine. For example, the integration of various software modules like ERP, GIS and MDAS is implemented through standard plug-ins or APIs. Inter-operability and data exchange standards like WSDL, UDDI, XML and SOAP facilitates the integration process.

Conclusion

 

However, technology per-sé does not bring about a turn-around in power distribution system, unless there is an enabling environment to sustain the reforms. There are non-technical challenges related to the utility’s own governance standards, change management, internal capacity building, organizational structure, labor reforms, training and development and top-level commitment. A top-driven, adaptive and progressive approach towards reforms is therefore absolutely essential, along with renouncing the hitherto traditional, bureaucratic approach.

 

Change management is the crux of business process reforms. It is extremely important to have a close and coordinated interaction with all the stakeholders, particularly the domain process owners. While there are set procedures for handling technology and process issues, the people issues have to handled with a lot of sensitivity, understanding and by creating awareness of the process reforms objectives.

About the Author:

 Mr Jayant Sinha is a senior IT professional specializing in the implementation of IT solutions in Power Sector domain with over 28 years of experience in design and development, end-to-end business automation and system integration. Currently working as Associate Vice President (Power/ IT) in Spanco Ltd., he has also worked in senior positions in NTPC and Uttarakhand Power Corporation Ltd (UPCL) on key Power Plant automation projects like Distribution automation, SAP-ISU, GIS, SCADA, MDAS/ MDM, MBC, Energy Audit, Smart Grid and E-Governance for Power Utilities. 

 

An Engineering graduate from BITS, Pilani, he is also a Post-graduate in Operations Management and an Accredited Management Teacher in Information Technology. He is active member and contributor to the India Smart Grid Forum.

 

He has lectured on IT applications in Power sector in reputed academic/ professional institutions like IIT (Roorkee), BITS (Pilani), PMI (Noida), IMT, ICFAI, etc. and presented several papers on Power Sector IT applications in conferences in India and abroad. His papers have been published in several reputed national and international journals.

 

Mr Jayant Sinha can be reached on email at jayants@spancotele.com or jayantsinha@yahoo.com

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1 Response

  1. KK Sharma says:

    Mr Sinha has nicely explained the practical problems
    in IT implementation in state power utilities and in my view the solution lies in change in attitude/change management in power utilities.100% correction of data can be achieved by constant effort on the part of utilities.
    KK Sharma Former Director of State Power Utility

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