Although smart grid is comparatively a new concept for us, the conception of the idea can be traced back to the decades of 70s and 80s in developed countries like US and UK. In conceptual terms, a smart grid is nothing but a conventional grid with added advantage of advanced information and communication technologies. A smart grid can deliver efficient, reliable and clean energy supply to its consumers at reasonable cost. The traditional power grid suffers from a number of issues e.g. high transmission losses, power theft, imbalance of supply and demand etc. Smart grid is expected to solve these issues by providing IT based improved energy auditing system, increased renewable generation capacity, advanced system monitoring in case of any emergency situation.
One of the amazing aspects of smart grid is the active engagement of customers in the system. It calls for decentralization of the traditional power market where the government owns most of the generation, transmission and distribution facilities. With decentralization comes the deregulation of the power market where the customers have the liberty to choose its own suppliers which can be a private player also. This leads to more competition in the market, which increases the chance of receiving better quality power for the customers. With wide installation of rooftop solar panels, the customers are playing the role of producers. Through practices like net metering, they can sell the excess power generated at their premises to the utility and earn revenue. This also helps in uplifting the economical condition of the rural poor. In agricultural sector, in many parts of India, solar water pumps are being installed which are as effective as electric pumps. This saves the poor farmer from paying heavy electricity bills.
Whenever we assess the performance of our electricity grids, we tend to take a top down approach where the customers are at the lowest level of the hierarchy. But, there is another approach in smart grid which is a bottom-up approach. In this aspect, the term “Demand response” becomes important. Demand response is a practice which is entirely dependent on consumer behavior. Under demand response, the utility companies often shift the load from peak hours to off-peak hours. It needs active engagement of the consumers. Sometimes, a specific amount of load will be curtailed for certain duration as a part of a pre-agreement between the utility and the consumers. Sometimes the consumers are allowed to choose non-essential loads, which can be shed by themselves at peak times. This process helps the utilities in lowering the overall installation cost, operating cost and avoid the chances of blackout. However, implementing the demand response schemes successfully has its own challenges too. Sometimes the consumer may not agree to the terms and conditions laid out by the utility for participating in a demand response program; e.g. it might include curtailing of heating and cooling loads during needy hours. So to motivate the consumer, the utility can offer attractive incentives. It is seen that customers who pay in flat rate are not at all interested toward this responsible consumption behavior. So, introducing variable pricing is very necessary in this case.
In India, we are still at a very preliminary stage of realizing a smart grid. Under National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM), pilot projects are presently being carried out in eleven locations in the country to ascertain the prospects and challenges involved with wide implementation of the idea. These projects are sanctioned by the Ministry of Power. Successful implementation of smart grid and demand response scheme needs huge financial investments. Still we can hope that with active involvement from the consumer’s side in managing the load demand, increased awareness among the general public about saving electricity and continuous shifting towards renewable energy sources, we will be able to achieve it in near future.