The concept of “smart grid” focuses on managing not only energy flow through the grid infrastructure, but also information exchange flow and equipment operation.

Anil Sasi

New Delhi, Nov. 10

IBM, which is at the forefront of the US electricity ‘smart-grid' project, is eyeing the Indian market.

On the heels of piloting a revolutionary grid technology with Shanghai Electric Power last week, IBM plans to offer solutions for the Indian grid managers.

“IBM is prepared to offer Managed Business Process Services to electric utilities in India… We see huge potential in the next five years,” IBM's General Manager of Global Energy and Utilities, Mr Guido Bartels, told Business Line.

How it works

The concept of “smart grid” focuses on managing not only energy flow through the grid infrastructure, but also information exchange flow and equipment operation.

A smart grid uses two-way digital technology to deliver electricity to customers' homes and to control appliances to increase energy efficiency and reduce power use.

This includes an intelligent monitoring system that keeps track of all electricity flowing into the system, new power lines to reduce the electricity lost during transmission and the ability to integrate alternative sources of electricity such as solar and wind.

For instance, in the US, IBM provides ready-made systems for public utilities to implement an IBM-managed smart grid to help improve their power usage and efficiency.

As a result, end-consumers can turn power on to an appliance at a certain hour of the day. For example, power to a washing machine could be programmed to come on during off-peak hours, when tariffs are lowest, enabling customers to save money and utilities to manage peak demand.

Real-time networking

The critical nodes in any distribution network are substations, distribution transformers and energy meters.

In India, all these three work as standalone silos, with mostly no integration and absolutely no real-time networking. IBM is seeing a business potential here, especially with implementation of time-of-the-day tariffs (or differentiated electricity prices depending on the demand profile for a particular time of the day) actively under consideration.

The market

Mr Bartels said the actual market size for smart grid solutions in India depend mainly on the success of the R-APDRP (Power Ministry's Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme) in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan and the provision for IT in next phase of power development programmes under Twelfth Plan.

“IBM is closely watching the progress of on-going R-APDRP projects in various states… but is not in a position to forecast specific targets or numbers.”

Mr Bartels, who is on the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Electricity Advisory Committee (EAC), said that the solutions IBM plans to offer in India aim at the “optimisation of the entire energy value chain — power generation, transmission, distribution and renewables.”

In recent months, governments across the world have unveiled ambitious plans in the backdrop of massive investments to transform their electricity networks into smart grids.

Such investments have been among the most high-profile allocations in the fiscal stimulus programmes in both the US and China.

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 11, 2010)
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