Energy Central Power Perspectives: Welcome New Expert Interview Series: Subramanian Varadaraj, Chief Energy Consultant and New Expert in the Grid Professionals Community
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- Oct 25, 2019 10:45 am GMT
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As Energy Central continues in our quest to make sure you recognize the value and deep wealth of knowledge from our network of experts, the much-discussed ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series’ returns to the Grid Professionals Community to learn about Subramanian Varadaraj. Subramanian recently became a part of the Energy Central community and his decades of experience in the utility industry make him an asset to us all. His experience has him as an expert not just in this Grid Professionals Community but also the Load Management Community.
Keep reading to learn about how he’s seen the industry evolve over the years, how the engineering of the grid and load management strategies are changing the utility-customer relationship, and more:
Matt Chester: Subramanian, we appreciate you taking the time to be an expert and for sharing some of your knowledge with the Energy Central community to get to know you better via this interview. To kick that off, can you give an overview of how you got involved with this field and what you work on these days?
Subramanian Varadaraj: I got involved in the Energy Central through Engineering, Construction and Maintenance (ECM) and IEEE colleagues. I was actively involved in ECM engineering discussion and feedback. I got some very good advice from various electrical engineering specialists in the field of HV electrical equipment and power grid automation installation and commissioning.
Presently I am working for EPC Contractors on project engineering design of the HV and LV substation automation, networking through fiber optics and energy SCADA system. I also work on Project Engineering Management and Design Consultancy jobs for various industries and for EPC contractors in different countries. I also work on Startup and Commissioning projects for various industries and EPC contractors, provided I get a good supporting team.
MC: You know firsthand how much has changed in recent years in how customers and their utilities interact. What do you think has been the most impactful way in which technology has changed utilities from the perspective of the customer?
SV: The utilities have taken a growing interest in the customer expectations and their experience. With lot of digital tools and techniques implemented by the utilities, there are still a lot of challenges from the customer perspective. The feedback is not encouraging both from the industrial and domestic customers.
With the lower cost of solar technologies, many customers have moved to solar power, which has hit the utilities in terms of revenue. Utilities are also facing tough challenges, like infrastructure getting older, technologies getting outdated, demand slowing down due to shifting to solar power, and cost going up. Even still, utilities have to maintain their best services to the customers.
With all the digital tools and techniques implemented by the utilities to make the customer happy, utilities must still have a constant human touch, either meeting them in person through a technician or via phone call or taking customer survey on regular basis.
The biggest challenge the utilities are facing is during total power outage. During this time, the customers lose power along with the entire communication network, like WiFi, telecom signals, and even hot spots. This causes a lot of irritation to the residential customers. The utilities are working on this to resolve this issue, but the biggest constraint is the finance.
Unlike the residential customers, the industrial customers are well protected through their own backup energy systems
MC: You’ve also worked extensively on smart grid applications in the power industry. How do you see this field developing in the coming years and what are some of the main challenges, in your opinion, in the way of more widespread adoption?
SV: Traditional power grids are unidirectional power flow, power flows from the source to the end-users. However, with modern society, the customers demand the power system to be more reliable, scalable, cost-effective, secure, and manageable. Hence smart grid is the next-generation electric power system automated, widely distributed energy network characterized by a two-way flow of electrical energy and information in real-time thereby balancing the supply and demand at the device level.
Moreover, it can complement the current electric grid system by including renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, and biomass, which is environmentally cleaner as compared with fossil fuels. Furthermore, many of these new power generating units can be relatively small and used via microgrid which can distribute the power to a small community or small industries.
There are a number of challenges in this type of plan:
- Smart grid consists of numerous power-generating entities and power-consuming entities all connected through a network. The generators feed the energy into the grid and the consumers draw the energy from the grid. At the same time, the new power generating systems, the power generated by renewable energy, increase the complexity of the current power system.
- Another important challenge is designing the demand-side management models from the customers. It’s very difficult to understand customer behavior in terms of the demand and the supply from the grid. The smart grid is a dynamic and complex decentralized energy distribution.
- Communications in the smart grid: The smart grid relies on two communication flow in terms of energy and communication. The communication between each component in the smart grid is extremely important to maximize the use of available electrical power in a reliable and cost-effective way. The important challenge for the smart grid infrastructure is how to efficiently manage the new intelligent power system and integrate it into the existing system.
- The smart grid is a vast complex system utilizes various communication and network technologies like a wired system like copper cable, fiber optic cable, and power line carries and wireless communication systems like WiFi and other systems. Since different standards like IEEE and IEC standards are followed, the major issue faced by the complex communication system is the interoperability of the smart grid.
- Another important challenge is the integration of microgrid with the existing power grid. The microgrid is a separate energy entity that can provide electrical energy resources to remote areas where the main electrical grid exists. The microgrid runs on renewable and alternate energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, and so on. The microgrid is a highly efficient energy system that has well-developed communication systems. The demand from the customers in the microgrid is well balanced. If microgrid is unable to meet the customer’s demand, then the microgrid will get connected to the main grid and once the load gets stabilized the smart grid will be disconnected, thereby operating in island mode. The interconnection and integration of smart grid to the main electric grid poses many challenges.
- Cybersecurity, hacking of the system, and data stealing is another very big challenge which may lead to utility fraud and theft, loss of confidential user data, and energy consumption data.
- In the present scenario, most of the electrical systems are old, outdated, uniflow of energy from the source to the customers, no communication network, demand patterns of the customers are not well balanced, higher utility bills, and low energy efficiency system. Most of the utilities are under tremendous pressure from the customers to change over to smart grid, which requires a huge investment to change over to intelligent systems, smart metering systems, communication systems with bi-directional flow of communication and energy, and high-efficiency energy systems. Most of the utilities are finding it extremely difficult to raise the capital to change the present electric grid to smart grid energy systems.
MC: As you’ve started to get involved with Energy Central, what have you found to be most valuable about being a member of this community? What compels you to stay engaged? And how do you hope to bring value based on your experience and knowledge to fellow Energy Central users?
SV: I can share my knowledge and experience to the community. At the same time, I can learn a lot from the difficulties and problems faced by the utilities. This will help me to think differently and importantly how the utilities keep them happy and satisfied.
Thanks again to Subramanian for his dedication as an Expert for Energy Central and for sharing his insights in this interview. If after reading this you think he can help answer questions you may have about ongoing projects at your organization, use the Energy Central platform to connect with. And if you see him posting or commenting around the community, be sure to welcome him and ask questions so you can learn even more! Energy Central’s core value comes from our network of experts and professionals across all facets of the utility industry, so be sure to leverage that for yourself!