Earlier this year, GE Power delivered a major upgrade for India’s power grid: a Wide Area Monitoring System (WAMS) which allows engineers to track power flow across 110 substations in the country’s Northern Grid. For the first time, these engineers have been able to monitor the state of the grid in real-time, leading to improvements in safety, reliability, and stability.
After three months of successful operation, GE is preparing to expand to four more regions, representing nearly half of India’s grid. When fully commissioned, India’s WAMS system will be the world’s largest, spanning 34 control centers and 340 total substations.
In order to get first-hand insight at this momentous undertaking, we spoke with Deepak Pandey, the software services leader for GE Power’s Grid Solutions business in India. Growing up in Northern India, Deepak endured near-daily blackouts. As an adult, he experienced the “Blackout Tuesday” outages that left half the nation without power. Now, he and his team are working to make sure blackouts and instability become a thing of the past.
BEFORE WE DIVE INTO THE WIDE AREA MONITORING SYSTEM, CAN YOU GIVE US A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF INDIA’S ELECTRICAL GRID?
Deepak Pandey: India has one of the world’s largest synchronous grids. That means that the entire grid of the nation works on the same frequency. The entire grid became synchronized in 2013; earlier, there were standalone regional grids, isolated from each other. The problem we faced by not having a synchronous grid? Any power generation that was happening in one region could only be consumed in that region. Synchronization gave us the ability to balance generation and consumption across all the regions of India, thereby effectively utilizing the country’s total power generation capacity.
ARE THERE ANY DOWNSIDES TO THIS KIND OF SYNCHRONOUS GRID?
Deepak Pandey: As regional grids synchronized, reliability and stability became a major factor. Due to the accelerated pace of power reforms in India, in a short period of time the country moved from discrete, isolated grids to a synchronous grid, then added a lot of renewable generation on top of that. This resulted in rapid and random changes in the characteristics of the power system.
We cater to customers who are managing the entire national grid. They asked us: how do we improve the reliability of the grid and increase its performance? WAMS technology at a national level was the best answer.
SO WAMS HAS BEEN ON YOUR RADAR, SO TO SPEAK, FOR A WHILE?
Deepak Pandey: It was piloted, in fact, way back in 2009 or so. But things became serious in 2012. There was a huge blackout on July 30, 2012. [Editor’s Note: The July 30th blackout, now called Blackout Tuesday, affected half of India’s 1.3 billion inhabitants, across 22 states.] Forget about pilot programs. The blackout created a huge urgency of deployment for the WAMS project - from the government, from customers - that we were in sync with.
Back then, we were not ready with the technology. A project of this scale had never been done, across the world. But there was a mandate to upscale our skills.
WHY WAS WAMS THE RIGHT SOLUTION FOR THE PROBLEM?
Deepak Pandey: With WAMS, we can monitor the dynamic state of the grid in real time, so that corrective action can be taken immediately in case of problems like grid imbalances.
WAS THAT NOT POSSIBLE BEFORE?
Deepak Pandey: This used to be done offline, and it used to take days.
Earlier, let’s say around 15, 20 years back, before the system was remotely managed, electrical protection systems and line data were confined to substations. Because data was local, in order to analyze something, it had to be brought to control center, where a team of engineers or experts used to sit and perform the analysis.
Due to the complex nature of India’s power system, changes can happen at lightning speed. If any instability happens - it can happen in milliseconds. So five seconds is a very big deal.
THERE MUST HAVE BEEN SOME SYSTEM IN PLACE TO MONITOR THE GRID?
Deepak Pandey: Over a period of time, customers started implementing SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition). SCADA gathers data on load, voltage, and frequency. Operators are notified via alarms when these values deviate from acceptable limits and can take reactive action.
But data in SCADA is only updated approximately once every 5 seconds. Due to the complex nature of India’s power system, changes can happen at lightning speed. If any instability happens - it can happen in milliseconds. So five seconds is a very big deal.
With WAMS, all this monitoring is happening on a real time basis. Smart software analyzes the data in a couple milliseconds or so and puts it in front of operators. This lets them view grid characteristics in real time and take corrective action immediately.
THE LEAP FROM THE EARLIER SYSTEM TO WAMS SEEMS HUGE. HOW DID YOU AND YOUR TEAM ACCOMPLISH THE TRANSITION?
Deepak Pandey: I manage a team of 200 engineers working in India, providing grid related software solutions for customers in the Indian subcontinent. We had to gather experts across the world - in India, Edinburgh, UK and Redmond, Washington in the USA. It took us roughly 1 and half years, starting in 2015, to develop the software. The operators and engineers at the customer end here in India were also very engaged during both the testing and the developing phases of the project.
YOU MENTIONED THAT THE DEVELOPMENT TOOK APPROXIMATELY A YEAR AND A HALF - WHEN DID YOU FINISH TESTING?
Deepak Pandey: You can’t just develop and sell a product of this nature, complexity, and scale. Customers continuously reviewed and tested each piece of software as it was developed, then gave their input based on their experiences. Then we had to go back again, rewrite the code, and present it back to the customer. There were nine phases of development and testing, which were done along with customers, and their feedback was incorporated in each phase.
THIS SEEMS LIKE AN INTENSIVE PROCESS - MULTIPLE TEAMS ACROSS THREE CONTINENTS, MANY PHASES OF DEVELOPMENT AND TESTING. WHAT DRIVES YOU TO DO THIS KIND OF WORK?
Deepak Pandey: The biggest motivation which I have every day coming to the office is: I am selling technology which is going to make a difference in the entire future of transmission and distribution domain. Technology is a big enabler and when we give solutions, that makes the customer happy and improves the lives of millions of people.
DO YOU FEEL A PERSONAL CONNECTION TO THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
Deepak Pandey: I come from a small town in the northern state of India. Electricity has always been a big issue for all of us. I in fact remember, in my childhood days, the delight we used to have when the power used to come on. Because there were outages to the tune of 8 hours, 10 hours, 12 hours. So we rarely used to get reliable electricity.
We were not addicted to electricity, but electricity was a delight for us. It was a luxury for us. And when anything is a luxury for us, in our childhood, we always dream of getting more of it. My vision was to become an electrical engineer, to work on improving electricity and to work on the reforms part of electricity.
THEN IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU’RE LIVING YOUR DREAM.
Deepak Pandey: I’m very happy about the reforms that have come in India. I always wanted to be part of these reforms. This has always been my dream. It’s good that I am here, doing something good for the nation and the domain.
Click here to learn more about GE WAMS Grid Stability Solutions