Implementation Hurdles: Challenges in the roll-out of 250 million smart meters in India

Challenges in the roll-out of 250 million smart meters in India

One of the key strategies being implemented to address the health of the distribution segment is the roll-out of 250 million smart meters over the next three years. This is expected to result in significant benefits for discoms including accurate meter data collection, improvement in billing and collection efficiencies and availability of energy consumption data. However, there are various roadblocks preventing the large-scale deployment of meters. These include high capex requirements and lack of consumer awareness.


At the recently held India Smart Utility Week 2020 in New Delhi, a panel discussion on “Challenges in the Roll-out of 250 Million Smart Meters in India by 2024” was chaired by Mrityunjay Kumar Narayan, joint secretary, Ministry of Power (MoP), and moderated by AjoyRajani, India Smart Grid Forum. The session included presentations and remarks by Vishal Kapoor, director, MoP; Daniel E. Nordell, AMI leader, XCEL Energy; ChandaNeupane, project manager, Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA); Phil Beecher, president and CEO, Wi-SUN Alliance; M.B. Rajesh Gowda, managing director, Bangalore Electricity Supply Company Limited (BESCOM); Vinit Mishra, director, power and utilities, EY; Leon Vergeer, general secretary, G3 PLC Alliance, and D. Basak, chief, commercial, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited. Excerpts from the panel discussion…

Government perspective

The Indian electricity sector has come of age. The sector has three segments – generation, transmission and distribution. The generation and transmission segments are comparable with the best in the world. The country has surplus generation capacity and is exporting power to neighbouring countries. Likewise, our transmission grid is quite robust and the five regional grids are synchronously connected to form a unified grid. However, there are challenges in the distribution segment, which is dominated by publicly owned discoms. Although electricity is a subject in the concurrent list of the constitution, the central government supports it through various schemes. The target of providing universal access to electricity to all households has been achieved under the central government’s Saubhagya scheme. Under the scheme, nearly 26 million households were given electricity connections in a span of 16 months.

Now, with discoms required to supply 24×7 reliable and quality power, there is a need for technology evolution in discoms. To this end, the central government has planned the roll-out of 250 million smart meters. Such an ambitious programme has not been attempted anywhere in the world and the target is going to be challenging, but it is achievable. Smart metering offers a host of benefits. There are about 300 use cases of smart meters. For distribution utilities, the reduction of AT&C losses is a key driver for smart metering. While the all-India AT&C losses came down to 18.19 per cent during 2018-19, they vary across states, some of which have recorded losses of over 40 per cent. Smart metering also helps in increasing billing and collection efficiency, thereby reducing the gap between the average cost of supply and the average revenue realised.

One of the trends observed is that if utilities have high AT&C losses, they may not derive much benefit from smart meters. That said, smart meters create public value even if they are not contributing to the financial value for a select few utilities. Moreover, if AT&C losses come down, it may eventually lead to lower tariffs. They can also address issues such as load management, peak shaving and demand-side management.

The country set renewable energy targets of 175 GW by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030. Thus, advanced metering infrastructure-based technology is crucial for renewable energy integration. Smart metering provides substantial gains to consumers as they can monitor their energy consumption and help them leverage the benefit of time-of-day/time-of-use tariffs. While these tariffs are currently applicable to only industrial consumers, they should be extended to domestic consumers as well.

In the smart grid journey, India has implemented 11 smart grid pilot projects, and launched the National Smart Grid Mission for undertaking various smart grid-related activities. However, the scalability and cost of smart meters are the key challenges being faced by utilities. The opex or hybrid model can be adopted by utilities, wherein the central government facilitates smart meter implementation in the beginning and the states can pay back later with the savings accrued through smart metering. Uttar Pradesh has already installed 1 million smart meters and has started realising the benefits in the form of higher revenue realisation from consumers. About 10 million smart meters are at different stages of implementation in various states.

Discom perspective

BESCOM plans to install 11 million smart meters in Bengaluru. Further, about 30 million smart meters are proposed to be installed across Karnataka. While BESCOM is sure about the gains of smart metering, the regulator and stakeholders are still not convinced about the return on investment from smart metering implementation. Smart metering is still a vendor-driven project. For a utility like BESCOM, which has a collection efficiency of over 99 per cent and AT&C losses of 7-8 per cent, the focus is also on deriving other benefits from smart meters. Further, smart meter data can be leveraged to optimise power trading. Meanwhile, Tata Power undertook a case study in smart metering to see its impact on AT&C losses. Even before smart metering was introduced, the distribution company was able to bring down its losses to less than 8 per cent. This has been achieved through the structured implementation of technology. Hence, in order to reduce losses, a discom should choose the right technology. Further, an integrated process needs to be ensured to support the adoption of technology. Smart metering is the first step towards incorporating a smart grid. Tata Power has implemented 200,000 smart meters so far. Other than AT&C loss reduction, there are many advantages on the operations side such as voltage stability, identification of phase imbalances in distribution transformers, and energy auditing. Another very important aspect for a technology to be successful is awareness among customers regarding the value addition it offers. If customers are assured of a shorter billing cycle and improved accuracy, among other features, the technology will receive a good response.

International experience

The NEA is the sole proprietor for electricity generation, transmission and distribution in Nepal, and operates in seven regional centres, and more than 30 distribution and collection centres. It caters to around 4 million consumers in the country. Smart grid pilot projects are currently being undertaken by the NEA. The pilot projects are being implemented in two distribution centres. For this, the NEA has begun the process of acquiring 88,000 smart meters. The NEA is working on the expansion and advancement of the distribution network as well as the installation of smart meters. The NEA has plans to build distribution control centres and is in the process of implementing an enterprise resource planning-based central billing system.

Technology providers’ perspective

The installation of 250 million smart meters offers tremendous opportunity for the industry. For the successful implementation of smart meters, discoms need to learn from industry experience, use interoperable standards, and undertake staged deployment. Furthermore, the “supercomputer in the meter” with distribution intelligence applications provides benefits such as load disaggregation that can put end users in control of their energy use, early detection of failing service connections, monitoring of service quality conditions to distribution management systems, and identification of non-technical losses. A smart meter also supplies information to the distribution management system to optimise feeder performance, and reports outages to the outage management system.

A pilot project of no more than 50,000 meters should be undertaken to understand the needs and requirements for larger deployments. It is essential to involve all departments in the pilot project to derive meaningful insights. For successful large-scale deployment of smart meters, it is essential to use emerging technologies, ensure interoperability and build on past experience. It is also important to have a secure architecture inside smart meters, which is essential for developing a robust system. The smart metering system also needs to be secured from cyberthreats. Further, with interoperability throughout the system and commoditised communication, the cost of smart metering infrastructure can be reduced.

G3-PLC technology, which is a protocol for power line communication (PLC), is a cost-effective, reliable and secure communication technology. Some additional benefits of G3-PLC are robustness and long-range communication. G3-PLC is an open standard protocol, which can be implemented across countries. Countries such as France and China, and many in Europe and South Asia have adopted G3-PLC. The G3-PLC Alliance is developing a standard for PLC or hybrid communications. Also, G3-PLC has proven its importance in more than 35 million devices that have already been deployed worldwide. Additional benefits derived from G3-PLC include power outage management, detection of outages and grid cartography consolidation.


The mass roll-out of smart meters in India requires the involvement of policymakers, the MoP and all other stakeholders. One of the most important requirements is choosing the right business model. Another aspect is identifying the best-suited technology as different technologies have different applications. Further, the areas where smart meters have been set up require monitoring. Implementing and installation also pose challenges, especially considering the differing scales of deployment. All the entities involved in the smart metering ecosystem have to work together to address these challenges in their respective capacities.