The city gas distribution (CGD) network of Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL) has undergone significant expansion since 1999, when IGL took over Delhi’s CGD operations from GAIL (India) Limited. At present, the utility has 11,000 km of medium density pipelines and 900 km of high density pipelines covering areas in Delhi, Noida, Greater Noida, Ghaziabad, Rewari, Karnal and Gurugram. In addition, it has recently secured a licence from the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board to supply compressed natural gas (CNG) and piped natural gas (PNG) to automotive and household users in Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of Uttar Pradesh.
However, with its increasing footprint, IGL is also facing several operational challenges. For instance, the regular maintenance of pipelines, leakage detection, accurate recording of consumption data and billing have become cumbersome. In addition, the utility needs to increase its revenue and improve the customer experience. Against this backdrop, IGL has recognised the need to automate services, by converging information technology (IT) solutions with operational technology (OT) and adopt digital technologies. To this end, the utility has introduced smart solutions such as the mobile application Oorja, smart cards for cashless payment, prepaid meters, automated meter reading (AMR) systems, geographic information system (GIS) for gas infrastructure mapping, and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) for remote monitoring facilities. While these solutions have optimised business operations and improved customer satisfaction, the absence of global standards for equipment, interoperability issues, cybersecurity risks and other drawbacks continue to undermine the utility.
IGL’s smart solutions
IGL has taken various digital initiatives and adopted IT-based solutions to upgrade its services in the PNG and CNG segments. These include:
- Oorja mobile application: To save customers from long queues at CNG stations, IGL launched a mobile app called Oorja in December 2018. It improves queue management by providing information regarding the average waiting time at a particular CNG station on a real-time basis and suggests an alternative station nearby. In this way, the waiting time of customers is significantly reduced and fuel wastage is also reduced.
- Smart cards: Another digital initiative launched by IGL is the smart card programme for CNG customers. As part of the programme, different types of cards have been introduced for retail and fleet customers. The smart cards are based on near-field communication technology, which enables customers to make cashless payments at CNG outlets. In addition, the information regarding card balance can be accessed online and if required cards can be recharged through net banking. Registered customers can also get access to a live dashboard, reports and transactions. These transactions can be monitored any time through IGL’s management information system. Further, to ensure secure transactions, pin-based security is employed with a separate pin for each user card and a control pin to control card transactions. In case of any queries, there is a 24×7 helpdesk for both fleet and retail customers.
- Prepaid meters: IGL has deployed smart prepaid meters on customer premises to eliminate instances of inaccurate billing. These meters have an inbuilt valve, which is equipped with a processor to monitor the user’s credit balance. When the credit falls below the programmed threshold level, the valve automatically closes, thereby stopping the supply of gas. This allows the user to purchase gas as and when needed and send recharge reminders once the payment is due. The meters also transmit credit data recorded by the processor to IGL’s server through a communications network (GPRS/GPS/LoRa), thus enabling a remote monitoring facility.
- AMR systems: This is another smart technology deployed by IGL for remote reading of gas consumption data. These retrofitted devices record the amount of PNG consumed by users over a period of time. The recorded data is then transmitted to the gas utility through a network communications system (which is either a radio frequency transmitter walk-by solution or a modern antenna solution). It eliminates the need for manual readings, ensuring accurate measurement for billing purposes.
- GIS: IGL has deployed GIS for mapping the complex CGD pipelines and infrastructure. As part of the GIS system, software and computer hardware is used to capture, store, analyse and present spatial data on pipelines. It enables quick leak detection and reduces the response time by providing the accurate location of the incident. It also helps in taking informed decisions about future gas distribution projects by providing information about pipeline concentration in areas. In addition, the data can be used for forecasting load (PNG/CNG requirement) in a particular area, thus ensuring capacity optimisation.
- SCADA: SCADA has been deployed for the centralised monitoring of load trends and performance parameters such as upstream pressure at each CNG compressor in pipelines, pipeline leakages, losses at CNG stations and online reconciliation of billed gas with actual consumption, from the SCADA centres.
Other initiatives such as software solutions or business analytic platforms to analyse data for asset optimisation, asset failure and load balancing among other analytic functions have also been deployed by IGL.
Benefits of digitalisation
The implementation of smart technologies has helped IGL address many challenges and optimise its internal business processes. For instance, the spatial data provided by GIS has helped in implementing projects in high density areas or urban settings. The queue management application has enabled predictive analysis of queues, resulting in capacity optimisation at CNG stations. Advanced business analytic facilities help identify gas consumption patterns of customers. This information can be used by the utility to forecast future gas demand. Accurate meter reading devices significantly improve the revenue generation of utilities besides eliminating under- and over-billing.
Drawbacks and recommendations
While the data-driven smart solutions implemented by IGL have improved the utility’s operations as well as customer satisfaction, they also have certain drawbacks, which raise concerns about their value addition to the utility. For instance, IT-OT devices being adopted in the country do not comply with the global manufacturing standards and at times capital is invested in low quality devices. Devices with low standard electrical components stop working after some time or record faulty readings. Therefore, a single standard for manufacturing devices has to be implemented for uniform applicability and long-term use.
Also, the dependence on foreign solutions and devices for CGD infrastructure proves to be costly and creates an additional burden on utilities. Foreign dominance does not provide a level playing field to domestic manufacturers. Thus, domestic manufacturers need to showcase their innovative devices or collaborate with foreign partners in order to grow in the market. Interoperability of applications is another area of concern that has created complexities for both users and utilities. At present, different smart cards for retail and fleet customers are being provided by IGL for cashless payment at CNG stations, which adds to infrastructural costs and creates complexities for users. The risk of losing valuable customer data is a major drawback, which undermines the use of smart technology solutions like SCADA. Adequate safety measures need to be taken to protect the software and hardware systems from cyberattacks and overcome such concerns.