Asia, especially India and China, is witnessing economic growth on a scale that was difficult to imagine a few decades ago. Accompanying this growth is an increasing demand for energy, and policymakers in India and China are drawing up ambitious plans to augment their power capacities. A consequence is the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

A study by Morgan Stanley indicates that modernization programmes for transmission lines have not been able to keep up with the rising consumption of energy. Power outages in the US cost the country $25-180 billion (Rs 1.1-8.1 trillion) every year. There is an increasing realization that what countries need is an electrical system capable of meeting the demands of reliability, efficiency and sustainability. This involves conceiving and implementing what is called a smart grid.

Smart grids are a topic of much discussion and debate in the highest echelons of governments, policymakers and the corporate world.

If a smart grid is truly smart, it will: deliver electricity from suppliers to consumers, supported by two-way digital technology; help optimise the total cost of ownership of energy; reduce cost to society by bringing down the carbon footprint; be an intelligent, modern, electric network that helps address the dual issues of energy independence and global warming; and be much more than just a smart meter.

Building a smart grid would imply integrating a number of high-end interdisciplinary concepts and technologies. For instance, a smart grid would be expected to implement two-way, real-time digital communication between where energy is generated and where it is consumed.

A smart grid would demand that power generation, transmission and distribution companies be equipped with advanced information technology-enabled systems to support information sharing.

Smart grids would also be expected to bring in the concept of using superconductive transmission lines to reduce power losses, be capable of integrating alternate sources of electricity such as solar and wind, and support real-time pricing and net-metering.

India faces an acute shortage of power. The country’s energy supply chain is hindered by problems such as avoidable losses during electricity transmission and distribution, a lack of accurate energy metering, unmonitored electricity theft and pilferage, a historical inability to deliver planned power projects on time, and an overwhelming lack of energy-saving initiatives. Power shortages are hurting industrial output and agricultural growth. The need of the hour is innovation and smart grids offer us the means to manage our energy demands.

Chandan Chowdhury is chairman and managing director of Invigorare Solutions Pvt. Ltd.