The distribution segment has been reeling under high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses of about 18.3 per cent, which translates into a value loss of about Rs 85 billion per year. About 15 years ago, AT&C losses stood at 34-35 per cent. So a significant improvement has been made over these years in reducing losses. Now, the target is to cut AT&C losses from 18 per cent to 15 per cent. A reduction in AT&C losses would lead to a reduction in discoms’ financial losses as well as impact tariffs. This is why metering is important, as it helps to monitor and measure these losses. A reduction in AT&C losses is, therefore, one of the major drivers for metering.
There are ample policy provisions for metering. The Electricity Act, 2003 mandates that no licensee will supply electricity without the installation of a correct meter. The National Tariff Policy, 2016 also lays emphasis on metering and says it is an important prerequisite for multi-year tariffs and the segregation of technical losses from commercial ones. The policy also specifies that progressively all meters, down to the level of consumers, should be smart meters. From a technical standpoint, the Central Electricity Authority’s Metering Regulations, 2006 govern the whole system.
The government has included metering in all its measures for distribution strengthening. Metering is one of the major components of the Rs 320 billion Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS), which was launched in 2014-15. It is the same with the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), which is in operation in the rural areas. The Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana, which is basically a scheme for the operational and financial turnaround of discoms, also has a crucial metering component. The recently concluded Saubhagya scheme for universal electrification also had provisions for metering of all electricity connections.
The IPDS and the DDUGJY together cover about 22.3 million consumer meters. The progress in meter installation under the schemes stands at 70 per cent and 66 per cent respectively. Last year, these figures were 25-29 per cent. So, significant progress has been made in a year.
Distribution transformer metering is one of the major areas of emphasis at present. Installation progress in rural DT meters stands at 59 per cent and in urban DTs at 78 per cent. Online feeder monitoring through the National Power Portal (NPP) is another important measure. Of the 43,000 urban feeders, 32,000 are already communicating data to the NPP. In the case of rural feeders, almost 70,000 feeders are communicating and the balance 35,000 feeders are likely to start communicating over the next few months.
The government is laying major emphasis on smart metering, which is one of the key building blocks for smart grids. Most of the countries that have gone ahead with smart grids basically started with smart metering. Smart metering also fits in with our national priority to reduce AT&C losses. Besides, smart meters aid in managing distributed generation from rooftop solar, demand forecasting, peak shaving, etc.
Under the IPDS, the government sanctioned 4.15 million smart meters at a cost of about Rs 8.34 billion last year. This was allocated to all discoms on the basis of their performance under UDAY. One success story is that of Madhya Pradesh’s discom, which installed 75,000 smart meters in Indore. Many other smart metering initiatives under the IPDS are also being finalised.
Energy Efficiency Services Limited has taken the lead in smart metering. It has bid out 10 million smart meters for Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, and has installed 55,000 smart meters for the New Delhi Municipal Corporation. Some private discoms like CESC Limited and Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited are also taking smart metering initiatives, but the scope is limited.
The uptake of smart metering has been a bit slow in the past two to three years. This is one of the frontier technologies and it does take time to roll out such technologies. The major reason for the slow uptake is technology anxiety amongst discoms – whether it is going to function, what will the cost be and how will the cost be recovered.
One major concern is the financial sustainability of smart meter roll-outs – the benefits of smart meters must outweigh the costs. But states like Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are already going ahead with their own schemes. So, there is a financial case for smart metering, even without a government grant.
Other important areas of concern are interoperability and standardisation. Going forward, utilities may look at an integrated approach to metering by combining water, gas and electricity meters to move towards a smart city solution. However, utilities need to safeguard against cyberthreats and take adequate cybersecurity measures.