Distribution Automation: Discoms focus on completing R-APDRP projects

Discoms focus on completing R-APDRP projects

The deployment of IT systems in the power distribution segment has been led by the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP). Part A of this programme, which focused on IT-based energy monitoring systems, is nearing completion while a post-R-APDRP plan is being considered for the next stage of distribution automation.

Status and progress

R-APDRP implementation has gained momentum and is nearing completion in several utilities. Significant progress has been made in the deployment of IT-enabled energy monitoring and accounting systems under Part A of the programme. As of May 2014, 550 of 1,400 towns had achieved “go-live” status, which means that all commercial business operations in these towns are processed through IT systems, and that energy audit reports as well as other management information system reports are generated through these systems.

Utilities are gradually capitalising on the IT infrastructure built under the R-APDRP. For instance, Haryana’s discoms are planning to initiate SMS alerts in the billing system. Other utilities, such as Uttar Gujarat Vij Company Limited, started real-time updates of billing and collection, and automated meter reading systems at the transformer level. At the same time, in many utilities, the newly set up IT systems continue to be operated by the implementation agencies. This is due to the challenges faced by them (manpower training, etc.) in taking over the operations.

Geographic information system-based solutions planned under the R-APDRP emerged as the most challenging for both utilities and IT implementation agencies. The latter underestimated the efforts and costs involved in such projects, considering that digital maps were prepared for the first time in several towns. Utilities, on the other hand, faced severe capacity constraints in planning and executing the projects.

R-APDRP projects are also being planned in Odisha. The state recently received a Rs 1.06 billion loan for implementing Part A projects in 12 urban towns in the Central Electricity Supply Undertaking’s distribution circle. The discom’s recently notified request for proposal suggests its preference for deploying an energy audit and accounting framework based on open protocol, instead of a vendor-specific one.

At the policy level, proposals to extend R-APDRP grants to the private sector have been considered. In this context, the Forum of Regulators recently deliberated on the regulatory implications associated with R-APDRP support for private utilities. It was emphasised that a prudence check of the capital expenditure undertaken by utilities under such schemes will be important. The cost estimates of R-APDRP projects implemented so far could be used by the state electricity regulatory commissions to evaluate the tariff implications.

Beyond the R-APDRP

The post-R-APDRP scenario is being outlined to formulate a road map, especially in a situation where smart grid technologies are being considered for deployment by utilities. The key pointers in this direction were provided by the India Smart Grid Forum (ISGF), which defined the post-

R-APDRP scenario as “the scenario in which the IT and automation systems envisaged under Part A have been successfully implemented and losses are measured accurately”. The ISGF highlighted major areas to build upon the capacity addition undertaken through the

R-APDRP, which include:

  • Load forecasting: For better network and power purchase planning, there is a need for incorporating load forecasting mechanisms, which are enabled by IT-based energy monitoring systems. Data available from R-APDRP systems should be used for short-term, medium-term and long-term forecasting of loads for every consumer category at various time intervals and seasons.
  • Prepaid metering: Of late, many utilities have introduced prepaid metering to improve revenue collections. However, there are cost implications associated with this system, due to which commercial viability needs to be considered while taking up projects.
  • Condition monitoring: Real-time condition monitoring can help minimise network downtime and rationalise costs for critical assets such as transformers and switchgear, overhead lines, and cables. With low-cost sensors and monitoring devices, and programmable logic controllers, condition monitoring can be implemented even in the most remote areas.

There is a need for a discom-specific road map in the post-R-APDRP scenario. This is because each discom has its own requirements and challenges related to IT-based automation in the power distribution business. Further, the performance and results of IT-based projects implemented under the R-APDRP need to be analysed and understood before taking up the next stage of distribution automation.