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Smart Grids Initiatives in SAARC: At the heart of attaining electricity access [free access]

December 10, 2019

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) region comprises Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. With one-fifth of the global population, South Asia is home to two-fifths of the world’s poor. Subsequently, most SAARC countries have a much lower average per capita consumption of electricity as compared to the global average. The countries in the SAARC region are yet to achieve the goal of universal access to electricity.


At present, SAARC countries are excessively dependent on fossil fuels, the majority of which are imported from neighbouring countries, hence exposing these countries to price fluctuations in the volatile international energy markets and further threatening energy security and greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions targets.


Although SAARC countries are endowed with diverse energy resources such as hydropower, coal, gas, solar and wind, the exploitation and utilisation of such resources are evolving at a slow pace. The countries are focusing on fast-tracking the development of the requisite grid infrastructure to ensure the generated capacity reaches end consumers. During this process of grid network build-up, these countries have the opportunity to incorporate smarter technologies in their respective networks to make the grid more interactive and energy efficient.


Key drivers for creating smart grids in SAARC countries


The global energy transition is driven by the availability of better and cheaper technology, revisions and setting of ambitious renewable energy (RE) targets, increased distributed energy generation, and stakeholder involvement. A smartly driven power grid can thus be a solution to a range of issues faced in the present conventional electric grids in SAARC countries.


Figure 1: Key components of a smart grid



Notes: AMI–automated metering infrastructure; EMS–energy management systems; DT–distribution transformer; IT– informational technology; GIS– Geographic Information System; SCADA– supervisory control and data acquisition

Source: SAARC Energy Centre


Some of the key global drivers for smart grids that also hold true for SAARC countries are:


Electricity access:  At present, most of the countries in the SAARC region face acute electricity shortages, adversely impacting their socio-economic development. These countries are faced with low grid connectivity, with a vast difference between rural and urban energy access in many countries. Introduction of stand-alone systems or microgrids with distributed energy resources (DERs) as supply sources can help improve the electricity supply in remote rural areas.


Grid expansion: With SAARC countries announcing ambitious plans to augment their transmission and distribution capacity, smart grid technologies for increased visualisation and situation awareness will help improve the reliability and efficiency of the grid.


RE integration into the grid: The current energy supply capacity in the SAARC region is predominantly fossil fuel-dependent. However, as most of the countries are venturing into renewable energy sources (RES) and energy efficient technologies, it will be important to have a smartly driven system.


Technology advancement: Over the years, smart grid technologies have made rapid advancements. These advancements offer greater capability and choice. Also, the growing focus of some of the SAARC countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan, on electric vehicles (EVs) is further increasing the requirement for a smart electricity network.


Increased efficiency via grid operations: The transmission network plays a vital role in the optimum utilisation of available electricity resources. In the SAARC context, most of these countries have high transmission and distribution (T&D) losses, which results in reduced energy efficiency and thus hampers the energy security of the region. The adoption of smart grid technologies such as advance metering infrastructure (AMI), remote monitoring and control of distribution transformers, use of outage management systems, coupled with a demand side management system can address issues of grid reliability, security and efficiency in these countries.


Demand side management (DSM): Increasing demand for power puts an upward pressure on power generation. Thus, implementation of DSM techniques will seek to address issues including reliability, network problems and load management.


Cross-border interconnections and trading: Smart grid systems can improve system operations of links between countries. If successfully implemented, this can lead to postponing or avoiding the investments required for augmenting capacities in the importing countries. 


Infrastructure reliability and security: The current grid infrastructure is exposed to natural disasters, vandalism and theft. The smart grid can help provide corrective capabilities. Improved intelligence therefore aims to address key issues such as network/systems tolerance for cyber attacks, theft and natural disasters. It also enhances the ability to anticipate and automatically respond to system disturbances.


Figure 2: Key drivers for creating smart grids in SAARC countries



Notes: EV–electric vehicle; T&D–transmission and distribution; RE–renewable energy

Source: SAARC Energy Centre; Global Transmission Report


Key smart grid initiatives in SAARC countries



In December 2016, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved a USD415 million grant to help Afghanistan improve its power generation and T&D infrastructure. In particular, the loan forms part of efforts by ADB to help Afghanistan improve its domestic energy generation from 20 per cent in 2016 to 67 per cent by 2030. The latter will use the capital to increase its electrification rate from 30 per cent to 83 per cent by 2030. Specifically, the project includes the construction of T&D lines, substations and transformers as well as the installation of 108,400 smart meters in the country.


In September 2018, Afghanistan’s power utility, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with India-based Tata Power to undertake mutual investment in the country. The MoU is aimed at assisting in the implementation and monitoring of electricity projects; improving energy supply and revenue collection; reducing losses; developing new capacity projects; and improving project management in Afghanistan.


In 2018, DABS, in collaboration with local engineering service company Noor Kabul Khurasan, launched a smart meter pilot. These smart meters will have the ability to operate with general packet radio service (GPRS), global system for mobile communications (GSM), power line carrier communication (PLCC) and radio systems.



Bangladesh’s Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC) has put forward plans to install smart grids for the first time in the capital’s Dhanmondi, Azimpur, Green Road, Lalmatia and Asad Gate areas. The project will be financed with a donation of USD12 million from the Agence Française de Developpement (AFD). Specifically, DPDC will install electric meter boxes containing a type of subscriber identification module (SIM) card at households and organisations. These boxes will transmit consumption data to a modern central management ward every 15 minutes.



In November 2017, Bhutan Power Corporation Limited (BPC) awarded a contract to Open Systems International, Inc. (OSI), to deliver a state-of-the-art Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) based on OSI's monarch™ real-time automation and visualisation platform. The latter will be implemented in the distribution network in the capital city, and targets the management of reliable electricity delivery to 115,000 residents.


Some of the functionality included in the OSI ADMS are OSI's graphical user interface; supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA); advanced alarm management system; communications front-end processor; real-time and historical trending; inter-control centre communications protocol; geographic information systems (GIS) interface; load-shedding and restoration; distribution mapping and visualisation; distribution power flow; and dispatcher training simulator etc.



India is focusing on increasing efficiency, implementing a seamless integration of emerging technologies in the field of monitoring, automation, control, communication and information technology (IT) systems.


There are 11 smart grid projects that are currently under implementation/completed across different states in the country with funding from the Ministry of Power (MoP). These projects were shortlisted by the ministry in October 2012.


Most of the aforementioned projects cover between 8,000 to 23,000 consumers and comprise applications including AMI for residential and industrial customers; peak load management; improvement of the power quality; SCADA/DMS; outage management system; and RE integration into the low voltage (LV) grid.


In March 2015, the Union government launched the National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM) in order to create an institutional mechanism for planning, monitoring and implementation of policies and programmes related to smart grid activities in the country. The NSGM entails implementation of a smart electrical grid based on state-of-the-art technology in the fields of automation, communication and IT systems that can monitor and control power flows from points of generation to points of consumption. The NSGM projects are under implementation at five locations—Chandigarh (Sub Division 5), Chandigarh (Complete City excluding Sub division 5), Kochi city in Kerala, Ranchi city in Jharkhand and Rourkela city in Odisha.

Some of the other recent key developments under NSGM include setting up of the Smart Grid Knowledge Centre (SGKC) by Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (POWERGRID), which will act as a Resource Centre for providing technical support to NSGM; adoption of the Model Smart Grid Regulations, released by Forum of Regulators (FoR), by five states so far; formation of State-level Project Management Units (SLPMU) in 16 states; mandating smart meter roll-out mechanisms in the National Tariff Policy 2016 and Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY) schemes.


In addition to the above, several state electricity distribution companies have launched smart grid initiatives to improve reliability in their states. Some of these smart grid plans include:








Maldives has embarked on a transformative plan to create the country’s first smart city on Hulhumalé, which will incorporate a smart microgrid to provide better electricity and related services to the inhabitants.



In a bid to reduce power distribution losses and improve network reliability, Nepal’s power utility, Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), plans to install around 90,000 smart meters in the first phase in areas falling under the Ratnapark and Maharajgunj distribution centres. The implementation is planned as part of the Kathmandu Valley Smart metering project (KVSM).


The second project includes the distribution improvement project, which aims to enhance the distribution capacity and improve reliability and quality of electricity supply in Kathmandu Valley by reducing distribution system overloads and technical and commercial losses. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a USD150 million loan for the same.



Under its Pakistan Vision 2025, the government aims to improve power demand management and generation to curb energy disruptions in the country. The document targets increasing access to electricity from 67 per cent to 90 per cent of the population; doubling power generation to over 45,000 MW; improving the generation mix and reducing distribution losses; and addressing demand management by increasing usage of energy efficient appliances and products to 80 per cent.


The country has introduced smart energy meters with AMR facility at the domestic level in some cities in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). So far, 26,000 smart meters have been installed at power distribution companies in Pakistan.


Pakistan’s power utility, National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) recently upgraded its SCADA system with support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) under the Load Dispatch System Upgrade Project (LDSUP). Presently, ADB is supporting NTDC in achieving a fully functional SCADA system for operations and monitoring of the complete power grid as well as using the SCADA communication system to obtain energy data from all metering points on the system.


Sri Lanka

In February 2019, Sri Lanka’s power distribution company, Lanka Electricity Company (LECO), and the Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy announced their plans for the deployment of an innovative IoT-enabled smart-grid solution to introduce prepaid electricity metering in the country.


In June 2018, General Electric (GE) in collaboration with Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) deployed the centrally integrated control and load forecasting system in the National System Control Center (NSCC) in Colombo. The system covered 100 per cent of the country’s transmission power flow by managing peak loads of 2,500 MW.


Challenges in deployment of smart grid technologies

Across the globe, power utilities are endeavouring to transform decades-old power grids into smart distributed power systems to solve the roadblocks on the energy transition path. However, deployment of smart grid technologies comes with its own set of challenges and issues, comparable yet diverse in each SAARC country.


Some of the generic challenges faced in these countries are the adaption of emerging technologies, inadequacies in grid infrastructure, socio-economic issues, threat to cyber security, lack of policies and awareness, high financial requirements, lack of smart-grid skills amongst the workforce, lack of stakeholder engagement, privacy fears, and growing stability concerns with high penetration of renewables into the grid, amongst many others.


The way forward

Globally, electric grids are in the midst of a transformation. Meanwhile, the SAARC countries, although endowed with diverse energy resources, suffer from energy deficiency. Specifically, with heavy dependence on electricity imports fuelled by conventional sources, the need for a safe and sound grid infrastructure is deemed crucial for the SAARC countries to enhance their energy security and help achieve their electricity access and emission reduction goals.


In such times of transition, smart grid technologies can play a vital role in achieving the much-needed energy access to all. However, evolving at a turtle’s pace, the deployment of smart grids is a capital-intensive venture and is currently being taken up largely on a pilot-project-basis in SAARC countries. Thus, to benefit from this transition to a smarter power grid, long-term planning and regional cooperation among SAARC countries are of utmost importance.