Originally posted in The Business Standard on 30 January 2023
The electrical grid that supplies electricity across Bangladesh consists of power generation companies, transmission lines and distribution lines. Bangladesh’s electric grid is a marvel of technology and engineering, consisting of more than 146 power-generating and supply (from India) units.
Transmission lines alone span more than 13,213 circuit kilometres (Ckt. Km), spanning all types of terrain and 621,000 km of distribution lines. But the conventional electrical grid is getting old. It is inefficient and has a significant load that affects its performance. Instead, there is now an increased focus on a “smart grid”.
The current government has dedicated a significant amount of effort in bringing Bangladesh under 100% electrification. In 2009, the total installed capacity was only 4,924 megawatts (MW). With the valiant effort by the Awami League government, as of January 2017, it rose to 15,351 MW and in 2018, it stood at 20,000 MW. As of June 2022, Bangladesh has an installed capacity of 25,700 MW.
The country will need an estimated 34,000MW of power by 2030 to sustain its economic growth of over 7%.
Issues within the electric sector in Bangladesh
Problems in Bangladesh’s electric power sector include high system losses, delays in completion of new power projects, low grid efficiency, electricity theft, low power quality, and shortages of funds for power grid maintenance.
On 4 October 2022, 70-80% of the country’s 168 million residences were hit with blackouts and only 45% of residences were restored with power by nightfall. The blackout was caused by a number of issues, including a shortage of fuel supply, mainly due to the Russia-Ukraine war. A similar day-long nationwide blackout was witnessed on 2 November, 2014 after a transmission line from India had failed, which “led to a cascade of failures throughout the national power grid,” and criticism of “old grid infrastructure and poor management.”
Our present electric grid was built in the 1900s and went through improvements as technology advanced through each decade.
Bangladesh now has over 948 MW of renewable energy, of which solar energy equals to 714 MW. Only 588 MW out of 714 MW of solar energy is currently injected into the national grid.
During COP26, Bangladesh’s government committed to producing 40% of power demand through clean energy by 2040.
Although the electric grid is considered an engineering marvel, we are stretching its patchwork nature to its capacity. To move forward, we need a new kind of electric grid — one that is built from the bottom up to handle the groundswell of digital and computerised equipment and technology dependent on it; and one that can automate and manage the increasing complexity and needs of electricity in the 21st century.
Introduction of renewable energy, along with electric vehicles (EVs) within a short period of time will require a modern grid which can handle the intermittent nature of the renewable energy and how EV’s are connected for charging.
What makes a grid “smart”?
A smart grid is defined as a network of self-sufficient systems enabling the integration of power generation sources of any type and scale to the electrical grid that reduces the workforce and aims to offer safe, reliable, high-quality, and sustainable electricity to consumers and organisations alike.
In short, the digital technology that allows for two-way communication between the utility and its customers, and the sensing along the transmission lines is what makes the grid smart. Like the internet, the smart grid will consist of controls, computers, automation, and new technologies and equipment working together, but in this case, these technologies will work with the electrical grid to respond digitally to our quickly changing electric demand.
What does a smart grid do?
The smart grid represents an unprecedented opportunity to move Bangladesh’s power industry into a new era of reliability, availability, and efficiency that will contribute to our economic and environmental health.
During the transition period, it will be critical to carry out testing, technology improvements, consumer education, development of standards and regulations, and information sharing between projects to ensure that the benefits we envision from the smart grid become a reality.
Benefits associated with a smart grid include: more efficient transmission and distribution of electricity; quicker restoration of electricity after power disturbances; reduced operations and management costs for distribution companies, and ultimately lower power costs for consumers; reduced peak demand, which will also help lower electricity rates; increased integration of large-scale renewable energy systems; better integration of customer-owner power generation systems, including renewable energy systems; improved security; and reduced electrical theft.
Electricity theft is a serious problem. According to US Electric company PEPCO, this is the third-largest instance of theft in the country. In many cases, electricity is stolen through metre tampering. Customers either slow down their metres or turn it off completely while continuing to use electricity.
In other cases, it can be switched off via the power line. A smart grid can prevent this from happening since metres are monitored remotely. Any attempt to tamper with it will cause a warning. And, if there is a deviation in electricity consumption, companies will be notified immediately, prompting immediate action.
Giving consumers control
The smart grid is not just about efficiencies gained by the power companies; it is about giving users the information and tools they need to make choices about their energy use.
If you already manage activities such as personal banking from your home computer, imagine managing your electricity in a similar way. A smarter grid will enable an unprecedented level of consumer participation.
For example, you will no longer have to wait for your monthly statement to know how much electricity you use. With a smarter grid, you can have a clear and timely picture of it. “Smart metres” and other mechanisms will allow you to see how much electricity you use when you use it, and its cost. Combined with real time pricing, this will allow you to save money by using less power when electricity is the most expensive.
While the potential benefits of the smart grid are usually discussed in terms of economics, national security, and renewable energy goals, the smart grid has the potential to help you save money by helping you to manage your electricity use and choose the best times to purchase electricity. And you can save even more by generating your own power.
Why is a smart grid important?
Today, an electricity disruption such as an outage can have a domino effect — a series of failures that can affect banking, communications, traffic, and security. A smarter grid will add resiliency to our electric power system and make it better prepared to address emergencies, such as severe storms, earthquakes, large solar flares, and terrorist attacks.
Because of its two-way interactive capacity, the smart grid will allow for automatic rerouting when equipment fails or outages occur. This will minimise outages and their effects when they do happen. When a power outage occurs, smart grid technologies will detect and isolate the outages, containing them before they become large-scale blackouts.
The new technologies will also help ensure that electricity recovery resumes quickly and strategically after an emergency — routing electricity to emergency services first, for example. In addition, the smart grid will take greater advantage of customer-owned power generators to produce power when it is not available from utilities. By combining these “distributed generation” resources, a community could keep its health centre, police department, traffic lights, phone system, and grocery stores operating during emergencies.
In addition, the smart grid is a way to address an ageing energy infrastructure that needs to be upgraded or replaced. It is a way to address energy efficiency and to bring increased awareness to consumers about the connection between electricity use and the environment.
And it is a way to bring increased national security to our energy system by drawing on greater amounts of home-grown electricity that is more resistant to natural disasters and attacks.
The evolution of the internet has brought about significant changes in every other industry. The power sector is also undergoing this transformation, and the move to a smart grid would result in better power transmission and distribution, technological enhancements, more accurate tracking and reporting, and customer awareness. There are many benefits of switching to a smart grid. However, a smart grid cannot be deployed at once.
A resilient and efficient power system is one of the major concerns, not only in developed countries, but also in developing countries like Bangladesh. Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and smart prepaid metering are the first steps towards setting up a smart grid, which some of the distribution companies are in the process of installing.
The next step is to improve the grid asset efficiency by installing Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), Gas Insulated Substation (GIS), Distribution Automation, Distribution Management System (DMS) and integrating all the power sections using a smart communication system.
However, converting the entire power sector of Bangladesh into an energy efficient smart grid system will require large investment and a long time.
DPDC takes up Smart Grid pilot project
The Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC) is the nation’s first power company to introduce a comprehensive smart grid plan. With generous support from AFD and EU, the DPDC has started several smart grid projects.
The whole power system network in DPDC is very elaborate and complex, but primitive. To reduce this complexity and improve the performance of the system, a smart grid can be a better solution. Load shedding is a common phenomenon in areas under the DPDC. But it can be solved by smart grid technology. As a smart grid can automatically detect, calculate and distribute electricity as per load requirements, it reduces the system loss and at the same time, a certain amount of electricity from the grid would always be available at each consumer’s side even at the time of load shedding. DPDC can be greatly benefited by using this technology.
So, to improve the overall quality of service and the distribution management of DPDC, smart grid is the solution. Smart grid will also enable DPDC to minimise power interruption and the duration of the outage. From all the monitoring and other smart grid devices, understanding and analysing will be easier and the DPDC will have a clear understanding of the whole distribution grid and it will help to make a smart decision for the future.
For instance, DPDC can cope with the increasing number of electric vehicles in Bangladesh in the near future. In short, to improve the total quality of the service, modernise the grid, and be ready for future challenges, there is no other alternative to the smart grid.
The Smart Grid pilot project aims to provide more reliable and quality supply, by deploying innovative solutions for the automatisation and digitalisation of the current distribution grid in DPDC’s pilot project area.
The project will be implemented in five out of the 68 substations in Dhaka defined through a consultation meeting. The selected substations are: Asad Gate, Green Road, Jigatola, Lalmatia and Satmosjid.