Easy Monitoring

Utilities make progress in smart metering and billing

Smart metering and billing systems play a key role in the city gas distribution industry. They help in collecting information on gas usage at various intervals and transmitting it to the gas operator through fixed communication networks. Such meters also receive pricing signals from the gas operator and convey it to consumers. While electronic meters only measure the amount of gas used, smart meters also transmit the reading without any human intervention, thus providing greater accuracy. Smart meters enable households and businesses to get information on their gas usage in real time using an interactive online dashboard. This technology mainly saves utility providers the expense of periodic trips to the location to read a meter. This timely information along with insights can help both utility providers and customers have better control over gas consumption.

Progress so far

Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL) has rolled out prepaid smart gas metering systems in the Rewari district of Haryana. The new smart meters will enable the customers to monitor their gas consumption more accurately against the credit available. In addition, it will improve operational efficiency of IGL. The meters will also help in fixing the issue of outstanding customer dues and reducing their impact on bad debts.

Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) along with Tata Communications is planning to deploy 5,000 smart gas meters in Mumbai. The new smart meters will give households and businesses visibility and control over their gas usage, and will enable MGL to enhance its operational efficiencies. The meters will be equipped with reliable, secure connectivity provided by Tata Communications’ public internet of things network. This infrastructure is based on an ultra-low-power, long-range (LoRa) wide area network (WAN), which will enable MGL to simultaneously monitor thousands of smart meters. Customers will not have to manually check their gas meter readings, and the smart system will automatically track their gas usage. This technology infrastructure is expected to give accurate readings with minimum failures. MGL has also implemented a mobility platform through which meter reading can be obtained and verified with a photograph of the meter. This has helped reduce the number of complaints regarding wrong metering and billing.

To achieve better results and reach out to a wide range of customers through calls and SMSs, spot billing was implemented by MGL field agents. It catered to the scattered customer base that was not covered in the mainstream meter reading mechanism. Further, around 152 industrial and commercial customers have been provided with a remote reading system. Diaphragm meters installed at commercial customer sites are planned to be replaced with smart meters to remotely acquire meter reading. Automatic meter reading systems (AMR) help in optimising the drawal of regasified liquefied natural gas for industrial and commercial consumers.

Meanwhile, domestic meter reading is being upgraded using Android software. This will help meter readers capture details with greater ease and accuracy, and provide value-added inputs. An automatic consumption report will be sent to customers on a daily basis to help them maintain their consumption as per the nominated quantity.

MGL is also in the process of undertaking trials for the implementation of prepaid metering systems for domestic customers. These initiatives will enable remote acquisition of meter readings, help detect instances of meter tampering and deliver enhanced user experience. This will increase safety as well as revenue realisation.

Challenges

The implementation of smart metering systems is impeded by defaulters, lack of willingness of consumers to adapt to a new system and meter tampering issues. Cost is another major deterrent for smart meter deployment as gas utilities need to spend extra on SAP licence charges, RF devices, etc.

Conclusion

As per industry sources, the global smart gas meter market is set to grow from around $1.59 billion in 2016 to $2.27 billion by 2021. Around 130 million smart gas meters are expected to be installed in India over the next three years. The LoRa WAN network is the best current option for smart gas metering in the Indian context. It provides wide coverage in cities for high range, low power data transmissions. It eliminates the need for a data concentrator unit, which is required in conventional systems.

Going forward, smart metering and billing solutions are essential components of the smart city initiative. They not only provide greater transparency and increase citizen involvement, but also help in the efficient management of resources.

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