Smart Metering Moves

Initiatives taken by key power utilities

Smart meters provide an excellent solution for increasing the operati­onal efficiency of discoms. Inc­re­a­­s­ed acceptance by discoms due to pro­ven commercial benefits has translated into a huge market potential for smart mete­rs. Distribution utilities have been ins­tall­ing smart meters under various go­v­er­n­ment progra­mmes such as the In­te­grated Power Deve­lopment Scheme (IPDS), the National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM), the Smart Metering National Programme and the Ministry of Power’s smart grid pilots. In addition, certain st­a­tes such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Mani­pur and Tripura have taken up projects on their own. As per the NSGM da­sh­board, out of over 11 million smart me­ters sanctioned under va­rious sche­m­es, about 3.2 million have been in­stall­ed as of November 29, 2021. Net metering is also gradually picking up in the po­wer sector as consumers harness re­ne­wable energy sources, especially rooftop solar, in order to reduce their energy bills.

A review of smart metering initiatives by select utilities…

Utility initiatives

With the installation of smart meters, there has been a higher revenue realisation (average monthly revenue per consumer) among utilities of Delhi, Uttar Pra­desh and Bihar. So far, Bihar is the only state to implement smart metering in the prepaid mode, installing rou­g­hly around 0.2 million smart me­ters; the other 0.7 million meters are simple pre­paid meters. Manipur has implemented over 0.3 million smart prepaid meters, while Tripura has close to 0.2 million prepaid meters. Mean­while, Uttar Pradesh has 1.1 million meters and In­dore (Madhya Pradesh) has over 0.2 million meters.

During the Covid-induced lockdown, billing efficiency of utilities with smart meters was higher at 95 per cent as ag­ainst 71 per cent provisional billing in non-smart meter areas. The daily revenue collection of Bihar discoms during the lockdown was about Rs 0.5 million through smart prepaid meters. In March-April 2020, revenue collection in Bihar discoms inc­rea­sed by 12 per cent in smart meter areas, whereas it came down by 30 per cent in non-smart meter areas. In Bihar, over 0.166 million prepaid smart meters have been installed till now. Meanwhile, the  per consumer per month revenue increased by 41 per cent and billing efficiency inc­reased from 69 per cent to 96 per cent. Arrears also continuously declined after the installation of sm­art meters as discoms were able to re­cover old arrears from consumers in instalments. Bihar di­scoms are not only charging consu­me­rs for excess consumption but also allowing them to enhance their load through the SUVIDHA app, developed by the Bihar discoms, without visiting offices.

In Indore, the Madhya Pradesh Paschim Kshetra Vidyut Vitran Company has installed around 0.12 million meters th­at have been running very successfully for the past three years. After initial tro­ubles, consumer acceptability has in­c­rea­sed and the state discom is in the pro­­cess of installing around 0.35 million meters in different towns and then there is another tender in process for over 0.5 million meters. While installing these smart meters, attention needs to be paid to the service line as it is a costly affair. There are typical consumer resistance issues and suspicion that these meters would run fast, and therefore, the utility needs to overcome these challenges. In terms of communication te­ch­nology for Indore, GPRS was not very reliable. After experimentation, RF-based radio mesh ca­no­py technology served the discom well, with a reliability of over 99 per cent. In­dore’s experience also sheds light on the importance of having an efficient me­ter data management system.

In the case of BSES Rajdhani Power Limited (BRPL), about 95 per cent of the utility’s connections are single-phase meters, 4 per cent are three-phase meters and 1 per cent are current trans­former operated. The utility began replacing old me­ters with electronic meters as early as 2004 and completed the process by 2006-07. It has been downloading meter data by using a handheld device. The utility is selecti­ve­ly using smart meters based on its re­qu­irement and strategy. At present, str­eet lights, government, tem­porary and te­nant connections as well as high-loss ar­eas have smart me­ters. Further, the utility is focusing on smart switchgear as well as DTR au­tomation.

Meanwhile, Tripura State Electricity Cor­poration Limited has over 900,000 consumers connected to post-paid meters. In order to arrest high aggregate technical and commercial losses (24-25 per cent), the utility is planning to impleme­nt smart and prepaid metering. By now, it has installed 184,000 prepaid meters under the IPDS and the Deendayal Up­ad­hyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, which has re­sulted in an increase in revenue collection by 24 per cent. About 45,000 smart meters were installed under the Agartala Sm­art Grid Pilot Project in 2014. In addition, it has placed an order for 100,000 prepaid me­ters and 200,000 smart me­ters would be installed under an upcoming Asian De­ve­lopment Bank project.

Further, Tata Power has installed 7,000 smart meters for its customers in Mum­bai. With the installation of smart me­ters, the utility enabled its customers to view and optimise their electricity consumption in near-real time through its customer portal and a mobile app. Like­wise, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Li­mi­ted has ins­talled over 200,000 smart meters across different consumer segments under its advanced me­tering in­frastructure project with RF canopy network. The company also accrued various benefits during the Covid lockdown period, with smart me­ters helping to raise over 350,000 bills, based on actual readings instead of provisional ones during April and May 2020, and pre­vented over 150,000 visits per month to co­nsumer premises.

Conclusion

The real challenge with respect to smart metering remains integration with existing systems. Also, without proper cons­u­mer engagement, smart me­tering pro­grammes often face challenges in terms of consumer acceptance. Hence, disco­ms must invest in the engagement of con­sumers to generate trust in these new systems and to ensure that the software developed to manage these meters is tried and tested.

Also, utilities realise that smart meters are not just hardware components but require an entire infrastructure, with all the associated processes, from meter reading to billing and payment, to be automated. Discoms need to choose the right communications medium that can be remotely and securely updated. Fur­ther, issues often arise during data integration from smart meters with the head-end system, the meter data management system, and billing and collection software. It is important that the entire process is seamlessly carried out through the communication backbone and automated through cloud-based services.

On their part, state electricity regulatory commissions can safeguard consumers by revising their regulations to include specific details on performance standards for smart meters. Althou­gh there are various implementation challenges, a lot can be done to achieve the targets, keeping in mind investments and timelines for smart metering by utilities.

Going forward, the smart metering initiative by utilities will see an uptick as the recently laun­ched Revamped Dis­tri­bution Sector Scheme lays considerable emphasis on it. The scheme offers a grant of about 15 per cent from the central government as capex contribution with a ceiling of Rs 900 per meter for “other than special states”, which can go up to Rs 1,350 per meter in the case of special states. The grant can be further en­hanced by 50 per cent in the case of completion of the projects by December 2023. With the government’s push, utilities are expected to co­mpletely transition to smart prepaid metering in the next few years.

(With inputs from Power Line’s webinar on “Enabling Smart Meter Prepayment in India” and a panel discussion among Rajesh Bansal, Senior Vice-President, BSES Rajdhani Power Limited; Manoj Kumar Jhawar, Director, Commercial, Madhya Pradesh Paschim Kshetra Vidyut Vitran Company; and Debasish Sarkar, Direc­tor (Technical), Tripura State Electricity Corporation)