Creating Energy: Self-Sufficient Cantonments

Issues Details: 
Vol 9 Issue 6 Jan - Feb 2016
Page No.: 
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Cantonments in India are akin to secure smart cities inhabited by a disciplined population. Providing clean power through the Offsets route offers an excellent and pragmatic opportunity
Col KV Kuber (Retd)
Friday, February 19, 2016

For many of us who have lived in cantonments (or even in cities and metros for that matter) the prime need is that of clean, green energy and an uninterrupted, stabilized and effectively distributed power supply. That in effect could well be the first step to creating a “Smart Cantonments” and significantly improve the quality of life of its inhabitants.

As a Signals officer, I have spent the bulk of my career dealing with sensitive electronic equipment, and know the effect of frequent power outages often for long durations, on electronics. Not only does it reduce their efficacy, but often reduces their life span drastically. And it is not just military equipment that is affected. All electrical appliances, even the household ones are similarly affected. And of course the effect is compounded for the families and inhabitants of the homes. Even during the meager rest hours that a solider is privileged to, he suffers extreme weather conditions, thanks to Power Outages.

Damage caused by power outages are multi-dimensional,  they affect the military systems more harshly than the man behind the machine, who anyways, bears the brunt of both the operational stress and environmental strain. For an equipment power cut is like a heart attack, suddenly pulling out the lifeline. The electronics in the equipment suffer severe degradation as a result of power outages.

And yet, with just a little bit of foresight and imagination we can create a mechanism for our cantonments to be self-sustaining in their energy requirements and perhaps even generate surplus power for commercial use. That could well be the harbingers for ‘smart’ cantonments and then ‘smart’ cities. 

Electronics and Power

While power generation is relatively simpler, its consequent distribution is far more complex and less efficient. Electronic systems are an integral part of all the military systems, in fact they dictate the worthiness of a system, better the electronics, more effective and contemporary is the system. Quality of power supply to the electronics in the system are pretty demanding as are the requirements for distribution and consequent application of clean and accurate power to the target systems at the input.

It is a matter daily experience that our radios, music systems, TV, microwave and other gadgets develop defects purely due to unregulated power. Most commercial power supplies have a shorter mean time between failures (MTBF) rating than military ones, implying more interruptions without warning. Military systems are more sensitive to unregulated power supplies and behave erratically when so subjected to. In military electronic applications, loss of power or reduced/increased allocation of power can be Cataclysmic – often life threatening.

All military electronics invariably incorporate BITE, the built in test facility, as also ability to recognize impending failures. As the demand for predictability increases, new power conversion products have the inherent ability to identify and route power to the specified areas. Military stations and cantonments house a variety of systems and equipment from the communications electronics to radars, sensors, on-board avionics and the like. Protection of these vital sensors and C4ISR systems from unregulated power supplies is an essential per-requisite.

Most of the upgrades of military equipment too are centered around the electronics in it. Take the case of the Mirage or Jaguar upgrades or any of the other systems, the focus has been on electronics. This is both due to the aging/degradation of the electronics in the systems as well as the quest for advancements. This Aging/degradation can be arrested by provision of regulated power supplies. The armed forces are continuously subjected to training and validation of their concepts and therefore deploy their operational systems on a regular basis. This needs to be supplemented by rigorous and regulated power supplies to protect the costly equipment.

The Human Factor

Army’s cantonments are spread across the country housing a number of personnel and their families. The state of availability of accommodation is grossly below the mark and our soldiers get to live with their families in army cantonments for a fraction of their lifetime service, which is most cases is less than 40%. Even with short exposures to army’s way of life, the soldiers and their families are at the mercy of long power cuts and frequent disruptions; thus besides causing physical inconvenience inflicts monetary damages onto the small electronic appliances they may have in their homes.

They require to be provided with continuous and regulated clean energy, which in any case is a basic requirement. This will have twin benefits, one enhances the life of a soldier, and the other they then carry this forward to their villages for spreading this awareness, accruing benefits for the country, far greater than that can be envisaged.

And that is not really too difficult. We just need to improve how the Army uses electricity and provide a mutually beneficial collaboration between utilities, regulators and customers. We need innovations providing cheap fuel from alternate energy sources. We need an Interactive Energy Platform, which empowers utilities and their customers to become allies in increased grid performance. With this kind of collaboration efficient utilization of electricity can be ensured and create a win-win situation for users, power generators and the environment alike.

The Energy Solution

How can the Armed Forces be provided with an energy solution that they can fully and completely rely upon both in peace time and in operations? In technical parlance, this translates into the following :-

• Attack the electric grid’s core problem – the load duration curve. The need to unlock affordable capacity when utilities need it to improve overall system utilization, grid reliability and security.

• Create and manage alternative means of energy solutions by use of green energy sources such as wind and sun.

• Free the Armed Forces of the national  grid, resources from the national grid can be better utilized for the larger population.

• Armed Forces can also adopt a few villages in the vicinity and provide the excess power generated/not utilized to their benefit.

• On this will ride the other smart components such as W2E, Waste to Energy, wherein the waste generated by the cantonment can be effectively utilized for generating energy, and sensors for assessment of various solutions including security solutions.

There are more than fifty cantonment areas in the country. We can pick up four or five such cantonments or military stations which includes all three services. We may also identify a couple of DRDO laboratories and a couple of DPSUs. This makes it a ten-area pilot project to demonstrate the efficacy of such a system in varied environment. A Center or a training institution would also be an ideal area to put the idea to practice and refine the procedures. Once the Technology Demonstration is done, the feedback from these areas will help in formulation of the larger program.

In subsequent phases, if successful, the model can be enhanced to cover all of the cantonment areas in well defined timelines and phased-manner. The entire program can be implemented in a relatively short duration.

Funds for this project can come from a variety of sources. One is that the Armed Forces may themselves pay for the solution they opt for, then they have complete ownership of the same. The second if that Venture Capitalist can be approached for initial funding and then a business plan can be worked out for revenue generation, in a phased manner. Once the solution is implemented the Army can pay to the service provider what they presently pay to the electricity department. All excess electricity generated by the service provider can also be routed to the national grid and charged accordingly. A suitable business model for the same can be worked out.

The program will also contribute to the “Make in India’ initiative and incorporate two major sectors in this flagship initiative of the government viz, the Defence and Power sectors. We are actually integrating the big two to be able to provide a solution that can thereafter be replicated for smart cities solutions also.

Offsets and Energy

There has been a thought to include energy as an avenue for discharge of offsets. India Smart Grid Forum(ISGF) has approached Ministry of Power to recommend to the MoD, inclusion of key smart grid technologies such as Energy Storage, Automated Demand Response/automated demand side management, Microgrids, and Renewable energy technologies as an avenue for the OEMs for discharge of offset obligations. These technologies can help us as a nation increase our electricity supply and reliability by better grid management and significantly reducing the need for new fossil fired generation resources. This will help generate employment, bring in foreign investment and promote “Make in India” initiatives. There is nothing more important to a country’s growing economy and GDP than access to reliable, affordable and efficient electricity. This guarantees that the most basic needs of its soldiers are met with spin off benefits to the citizens, while providing the ability to support increased productivity and economic outputs.

What could be an Offsets Model then?

First step is for an insertion in the offsets policy, energy as an avenue for discharge of offsets in Armed Forces areas.

The OEM funds the offset project and gets offsets credits in return. One such typical example is given below.

Say for a cantonment such as Pathankot, that is in the news for all the wrong reasons, let us undertake this project.

For purposes of a theoretical discussion, broadly speaking, to implement an energy solution, including power generation and applying smart grid solutions such as the Interactive Energy Platform , using a grid agent and a Distributed Energy Resource(DER), to integrate distributed energy generation, renewable energy source and energy storage systems and other smart grid components, let us say $ 3 million is required. For three such cantonments or for a pilot involving different sizes of cantonments areas, DPSUs and a couple of DRDO labs, say $ 15 million is required.

This $ 15 million is funded by an OEM who has an offset obligation. In this case let us put to use the innovari technology and use an Indian Offset Provider  , who will implement this solution. All components and subsystems available in India, irrespective of cost effectiveness, will be procured from India only. All production, design , assembly, integration and program  implementation will be affected in India. Power generation companies and PSUs like BHEL can be integrated in a suitable manner.

Therefore the steps involved here are as under:-

• OEM funds the program, $ 5 million.

• Indian Offsets Provider  implements the program in identified cantonments.

• The Armed Forces bases provide a completion certificate once the project is implemented in their area.

• OEM gets the offsets credits once the completion certificate is given.

• Indian Offsets Provider is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep.

• Business plan involving the IOP and Army garrison for revenue, in terms of pay by use of the electricity and smart solution.

• OEM can be remunerated according to the business plan of IOP.

Implications of Offsets

The following are the implications:-

• Armed forces cantonment areas become smart with no direct investment

• Their vital electronic and human assets are energy proof.

• They have paved the way for smart cantonment and other components can be add ons.

• The energy solution for all the cantonment areas in the entire country will cost approximately $ 80 to 90 million, which is a minuscule fraction of the offset obligations of the OEMs.

• For a small investment from OEMs, the entire country can boast of energy independent military areas.

• This will act as a motivator for other spin off applications.

• Our vital electronic laboratories and DPSUs will be able to get an energy solution they so very richly deserve.

• This will overall directly benefit the Indian Armed Forces, both their equipment and personnel.

It is imperative to provide our Armed Forces with an efficient energy solutions and the offset angle can be explored for an effective mechanism of implementation, with minimal cost, minimal bureaucratic intervention and expeditious delivery mechanism. This is in consonance with the “Make in India” and “Made in India” initiatives of the government and could well be a model for subsequent development of ‘Smart’ cities and cantonments.

Military Affairs