The expansion of the city gas distribution (CGD) industry can be gauged from the fact that while the fourth bidding round is yet to be completed, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board has already announced the fifth round for another 20 cities.
In such a scenario where CGD demand is increasingly rapidly in the country, technology is set to play the role of an enabler in three verticals – asset management, operations and consumer management. These emerging technologies can help CGD companies run their operations efficiently. With a fast growing consumer base, these companies will be largely differentiated in the future on the basis of consumer experience and the efficiency with which they run their operations.
Indian CGD market scenario
Around 47 per cent of the CGD source mix is derived from domestic fields. The remaining 53 per cent is sourced from regasified liquefied natural gas. CGD accounts for 7 per cent share in the country’s total natural gas consumption.
At present, the CGD market in India consists of around 936 compressed natural gas stations, 2.4 million domestic piped natural gas users, over 10,000 commercial customers and approximately 3,000 industrial customers. About 47 geographical areas have been auth-orised for the CGD business and another 18 are in the bidding process. Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra together consume more than 65 per cent of the available gas.
Key challenges in a CGD organisation
CGD organisations face the following key challenges that can be addressed through technological improvements:
- Asset management: Some of the key issues pertaining to asset management are asset mapping via a geographic information system (GIS), asset performance monitoring, maintenance and planning, procurement planning, third-party damages, reduction in leakage and pilferage, network load analysis, and long-term asset investment strategy (Table 1).
- Operations: Challenges faced by CGD entities in this segment include emergency preparedness, network safety, liaising with various government authorities, workforce optimisation, accurate fault location, communication through social media and sending alerts via mobile technology (Table 2).
- Consumer: A CGD entity also needs to deal with issues such as improving response time, minimising complaints, keeping downtime minimal, and improving supply reliability, billing and payment accuracy for handling its customers efficiently (Table 3).
The relationship between the CGD entity and the consumer has undergone a change. CGD consumers are changing from being passive to active, making a case for a consumer-centric utility. CGD consumers seek convenience across all touch points with utilities. As compared to earlier, they now want to receive bills through channels such as web, interactive voice response and email that allow them to connect with the utility. The usage of traditional channels such as contact centres and mail has been diminishing. In response to this, a proactive CGD utility reaches out to its consumers through self-service channels.
A smart meter connects the consumer with the CGD utility on a real-time basis. In order to enhance communication with consumers, CGD utilities are resorting to communication through smartphones and social media and are focusing on increasing consumer awareness regarding energy conservation.
- Data and technology: This includes integrating IT applications, digitising data, ensuring data quality and availability for management information system reports as well as data security and privacy, and providing regulatory reports.
The next three areas are expected to offer the best opportunities for technology growth in the CGD business:
- Social media: Technology can be used by CGD entities to promote energy efficiency, manage outage communication, facilitate brand management and handle complaints.
- Mobility: This involves the use of technology for consumer engagement, mobile applications and field force automation.
- Cloud: This would involve the efficient handling of consumer data, asset management and meter data management.
Based on a presentation by Nitin Sharma, Senior Consultant, Business Consulting, Infosys, at a recent Indian Infrastructure conference