To increase its operational efficiency and ensure effective network planning, Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) is undertaking several digitisation and grid modernisation initiatives. The discom is also focusing on enhancing its consumer service experience by implementing information technology (IT) solutions. At a recent workshop organised by Power Line on “Grid Modernisation in Maharashtra”, Sanjeev Kumar, chairman and managing director, MSEDCL, spoke about the key strategies and technologies being deployed by the discom to modernise the grid, and the issues and challenges being faced in their implementation. Excerpts…
Digitisation and modernisation have become the buzzwords for grid upgradation. Digitisation is simply the integration of advanced IT solutions with business operations and planning. This has gained momentum as IT infrastructure in the country has improved by leaps and bounds and is becoming competitive day by day. Meanwhile, with the advancement in communications technology, digitisation has become even more relevant. With the advent of these technologies, physical distance is no longer a barrier in communication. Measuring a performance parameter correctly and communicating it in a timely manner allows utilities to take better decisions based on accurate data.
Further, digitisation helps discoms in the judicious utilisation of funds. There are certain spare capacities in the distribution network and maintaining these entails additional expenses, which are eventually passed on to consumers. Digitisation provides tools that help in managing these spare capacities by optimising network design and performance. Further, through digitisation, thefts can be pinpointed accurately, thereby assisting the discom in controlling electricity losses due to thefts.
Digitisation should not remain confined to the modernisation of the network, but should extend to associated services as well. These include inventory management, asset management and maintenance strategies. For example, the implementation of enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions has helped MSEDCL in effectively managing its inventory. In 2015-16, MSEDCL’s closing inventory was around Rs 26 billion, which reduced to Rs 6.5 billion in 2016-17 through ERP implementation, which helped in better measurement and control of the inventory.
Besides, digitisation facilitates asset management, preventive maintenance and monitoring of asset health. It also provides an opportunity to the discom to go beyond electricity supply. It provides significant information about various consumer parameters to the discom, which could be used to provide other services.
Business process re-engineering
Discoms need to re-engineer existing business processes through digitisation. Besides IT implementation, business process re-engineering requires a change in the mindset. Digitisation should not remain confined to physical aspects such as installing sensors to enhance grid capability. Process re-engineering provides greater value both to the consumer and the discom.
MSEDCL has decided to undertake process re-engineering by using IT in a big way. This will not only increase consumer convenience, but also help in controlling the discom’s expenditure. For example, the new connection form at MSEDCL is only a one-page form with five columns as compared to a physical form of three to four pages, which requires more people for processing and incurs an additional cost to the discom. Besides, MSEDCL provides the facility to consumers to apply for a change in load through an SMS and change of name of the connection holder by simply uploading the relevant documents on its web portal. The discom also allows people to file complaints on Twitter.
MSEDCL is also working towards reducing human interaction with consumers to almost zero. MSEDCL aims to communicate with its consumers through various digital channels. The discom has collected the mobile numbers of almost 18 million consumers, against the total of 24 million, over the past one and a half years. The discom is providing several services including the application for a new service connection, bill payment and complaint resolution through SMS mode. Further, the meter data is communicated to the consumers within 10 minutes to half an hour of taking the reading, depending upon the network, through an SMS, with the date and time of meter reading. If consumers have any complaints, they can identify the meter reader of their neighbourhood and sort out the issue. If the problem persists, they can upload their own meter readings on a mobile app.
Apart from this, the electricity bill is sent to consumers through an SMS along with a link for bill payment. Bill reminders and information about anticipated power disruption and power restoration are also sent to them through an SMS. Going forward, the discom aims to collect the mobile numbers of all 24 million consumers so as to keep them updated about their services. Later, the discom will graduate to undertaking demand-side management using consumers, mobile phones.
Digitisation should also involve enhancing the discom’s efficiency in managing its employees. MSEDCL provides all human resource-related services to the employees through the mobile applications and the employee portal.
Some of the key requirements for digitisation are an appropriate meter and a robust communication network. Smart meters are costly and the appropriate communication infrastructure required for their installation is still under development. It is difficult to justify smart meter economics as almost 60-70 per cent consumers are paying only Rs 200-Rs 300 per month. Radio frequency meters along with a data concentrator unit provide almost 80 per cent of the functionalities of a smart meter. MSEDCL is setting up theses meters in Navi Mumbai and three other zones, covering almost 2 million consumers in the next six months.
In the distribution transformer (DT) metering segment, MSEDCL has installed DT meters in 120 towns under the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme. However, there are issues regarding the willingness of field staff to maintain the meters. In addition, there are a number of bottlenecks on the communication front. The discom also had bad experience with the communication network provider as the network strength was poor.
Meanwhile, almost 20,000 feeders are being monitored and these are providing data to the discom. Although there were certain problems earlier, the discom has been receiving adequate feeder data for the past six months. This data has been put up by the discom in the public domain. MSEDCL is also undertaking geographic information system mapping of all assets including substations and wires, which is likely to be completed soon. This information will be provided to the linemen on their hand-held device. It will allow them to identify faults in their area of operation.
One of the key threats of digitisation pertains to cybersecurity. Apart from this, ensuring consumer privacy is extremely important. Consumer data needs to be protected not only from the economic point of view, but also from the security point of view. A household’s electricity consumption data can be used to determine how many people are living in the house at a particular point of time. If this data becomes publicly available, it can pose a serious security risk to the consumers. Besides this, reskilling of the workforce is required to meet the emerging IT needs.
In sum, the digitisation of processes provides an opportunity to utilities to enhance their operational efficiency and undertake network planning. Therefore, MSEDCL is implementing digitisation and grid modernisation initiatives with great vigour.