Andhra Pradesh Southern Power Distribution Company Limited (APSPDCL) is responsible for electricity distribution in five out of 13 districts in Andhra Pradesh including Kurnool, Nellore, Kadapa, Anathapur and Chittoor.
This distribution company has been at the forefront of the implementation of several information technology (IT) and operational technologies (OT) solution across various fronts through which it has leveraged a substantial degree of financial and operational success, in addition to earning praise and approval from its customers for the convenience and information it offers to them. In view of the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic, a variety of these functionalities have enormously aided customers, employees and the company as a whole, thereby reinforcing a new usefulness of these technologies.
The company has devised a seamless and cross-platform complaint system. This includes “Spandana”, an application created to enable customers to register their complaints and track them, in addition to a toll-free 24×7 customer care centre, which handles issues such as calls, billing, metering and failures; and the customer care website, which allows customers to register and track their complaints. Further, the “MeeSeva” website allows customers to apply for new connections, processes new connection requests and changes in load, title transfer, category change, etc. The company also boasts of the APSPDCL mobile app, which permits consumers to make electricity bill payments through e-payment applications such as Google Pay, Paytm and Bhim. It assists users to see their payment history, consumption history, register and track complaints, and calculate the energy usage on a monthly basis. Consequently, this app also improves the ease of doing business because from now on, companies and industrial customers can register their applications for new connections on the online portal or the APSPDCL app. It has also launched an Any Time Payment machine for the convenience of its consumers, who can now pay their electricity bills round the clock, 365 days.
APSPDCL also uses the Urjamitra app, which is launched at the national level under the Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) to send SMS alerts to consumers on the status of feeder outages and scheduled load shedding.
On the back end, it has two applications, the APSPDCL department app for its staff to monitor in real time the various operations and maintenance activities such as agricultural pump usage, handling of meter change requests, status of meter readings, new connections, geotagging and track feeder outages. The other back-end application is the APSPDCL recruitment app, used for the recruitment of energy assistants at the village level. This is a rather unprecedented method to recruit employees and APSPDCL may perhaps be amongst the early adopters of this sort of application exclusively designed for recruitment.
The company commenced operating on the SAP 4.7 version in 2008 and then migrated to the SAP 6.0 version in 2010. In March 2019, it migrated to the SAP suite on Hana (SoH) under the IPDS. With this, the system has begun to provide real-time data on material management (inventory, purchases, sale of scrap, etc.), financial and cost controlling, human resources status, project structure (controlling, budgets, plan/actual costs, planning and scheduling) and other such aspects. IT initiatives customised in the SAP system have further helped improve end-to-end internal efficiency by maintaining attendance as well as reimbursing to employees including the contractually employed (monthly wages to over 10,000 outsourced contract workers are directly credited to their bank accounts on the 1st of every month through contracts escrow bank accounts.)
APSPDCL has also implemented a monitoring and tracking system called MATS for energy theft cases, online HT/LT (CT metered) services inspection application for period testing of meters, automatic application for departmental accidents and medical application for automation of medical bills reimbursement to employees. Processes to improve attendance evaluation include biometric scans, working via videoconferencing and constant connectivity with on-field officers with extended network connectivity up to the section office in order to raise efficiency and ensure on-time commissioning of distribution projects.
On the cybersecurity front, the discom has installed the Eset NOD32 antivirus and has further installed advanced firewalls (Watchguard) to protect the entire discom’s WAN network from external cyberattacks. They operate all software applications including the APSPDCL website on the Unix/Linux platform to safeguard against various ransomware attacks.
Another key IT intervention has been the outage management system (OMS). Power supply and outages are being monitored through OMS for all 11 kV feeders of APSPDCL. The duration and frequency of outages are measured by the System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI)-System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI) on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. It also ensures 24×7 power supply to all industrial feeders, while also providing real-time information on power outages.
In addition, the utility monitors and controls agricultural pump sets using electric smart controls, which have smart meters to detect consumption and whose operation can be suspended through an SMS or a phone call. It is controlled and operated through an Android/IoS/Windows-based application.
Under the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP), Part A IT, which has been implemented in 27 towns of five districts, the discom has introduced an automated billing and collection process, which also includes the preparation of spot billing and spot collection data, in addition to uploading billing and collection data to the central server so that the utility can later generate bill book abstracts and various other reports. This automated billing process currently covers 6.5 million customers, in concurrence to integrating third-party payment gateways, thereby enabling customers to make payments online.
Further, APSPDCL has commissioned online feeder monitoring systems in order to minimise SAIDI and SAIFI, which measure the frequency and intensity of electricity cuts respectively; while also helping to monitor usage statistics. This will help in early detection of anomalies that crop up in the system and thus let the company provide uninterrupted electricity to its users.
Further, under R-APDRP Part A, it has commissioned an experimental supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) project in Nellore town, which constitutes the installation of 13 RTUs, 50 FRTUs, 50 FPIs, 45 sectionalisers and 15 auto reclosers. This allows greater control on the supply quality and reliability with the objective of maintaining 24×7 uninterrupted supply to customers. The SCADA system reduces manual intervention in the restoration of power supply during outages by using automatic, remotely controlled switching and isolation equipment. It has also been instrumental in reducing the number of consumers affected due to faults by automatic localisation, isolation and restoration of supply to healthy parts, while identifying the faulty areas, thereby reducing down time and manpower.
A distribution transformer (DT) tracking system has been installed to enforce the standard operating procedure (SOP) norms in replacing failed DTs while adhering to the timeline as set by the Andhra Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission under its SOP norms. This application will capture the photographs of the failed DT, the replacement DT and the vehicle transported, along with the coordinates of the DT structure and send it to the server through GPRS. The picture is then uploaded to the server through the application.
Another key intervention implemented by the utility is the geographic information system (GIS). Under this, intelligent electricity network maps are superimposed on land-based GIS maps, by which GIS mapping is achieved. This scheme has been implemented in keeping with the R-APDRP. Further, as the smart meter pilot project is currently under way by the utility, work has been awarded for the installation of 3,000 smart meters in 11 kV feeders in Tirupati town.
The way forward
A major hurdle in maximising efficiency is network connectivity. Hence, achieving 100 per cent network connectivity across all the field components would unlock a higher degree of cost effectiveness as problems would be immediately identified in the initial stages. In the future, all things considered, adopting and adapting to the latest technological changes in this dynamic sector, in tandem with capital investment towards capacity addition, will be the two fundamental challenges for this utility.