Today, Indian distribution utilities are facing the challenges of high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, poor billing and collection efficiency, and lack of adoption of new technologies. Meter data management (MDM), which is a core component of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), can help utilities overcome these challenges by unlocking and processing data for a variety of applications to bring down AT&C losses, enhance revenue and improve consumer engagement. The data processed by MDM can also be utilised for other applications like outage management, peak load management, demand response and prepayment. At a recent virtual roundtable hosted by Power Line and supported by Siemens, industry experts discussed the needs and requirements of the smart metering ecosystem including MDM, its implementation challenges and the way forward. A summary of the discussion amongst the panellists – Vineeta Agarwal, chief general manager, Power Grid Corporation of India; Rajesh Bansal, chief executive, BSES Rajdhani Power Limited; Dhrubajyoti Choudhury, deputy manager (IT), Assam Power Distribution Corporation Limited (APDCL); Nitin Marjara, head of department, metering, TP Central Odisha Distribution Limited; Swami Sharan Prasad, ESE, metering, North Bihar Power Distribution Company Limited (NBPDCL); Mrityunjoy Roy, CEO and MD, Virtuoso Consulting & Technology; Santadyuti Samanta, chief of information technology, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (TPDDL); and Susmita Sen, deputy general manager, metering, CESC Limited.
Experience so far
Different utilities have different requirements from an MDM solution depending on their objective. For instance, in the case of TPDDL, the key objectives for processing data via MDM were revenue protection, better consumer services and further improvement in billing efficiency. AMI also provided various value-added services besides reducing the discom’s AT&C losses. TPDDL has used Siemens’ MDM, EnergyIP, to read and process meter data and bring in intelligence from the control room to the substation level and even the distribution transformer level.
Meanwhile, in the case of TP Central Odisha Distribution Limited (TPCODL), another Tata Power company, obtaining readings from different parts of central Odisha is a challenge owing to the large geographical area. This is where the smart metering ecosystem including AMI and MDM will play a key role by improving billing and collection efficiency. Once billing requirements are met, other needs such as implementation of time-of-day (ToD) tariffs and outage management will be taken up.
In the case of APDCL, the utility has completed two AMI projects covering around 100,000 consumers while projects covering 300,000 consumers are under way. Currently, the utility is undertaking minor analyses using its MDM solution mainly for billing and identifying power factor, maximum demand and sanctioned load violations. The company has plans to use MDM for advanced functionalities such as load forecasting and demand response in the future.
Meanwhile, NBPDCL’s MDM system (MDMS) is processing data of nearly 770,000 consumers. Daily load profiles of consumers are being recorded on MDM and consumers can see their consumption data on the Bihar Bijlee app to optimise their electricity usage. NBPDCL has installed a prepaid AMI solution, which has helped the discom realise past arrears from consumers, serve accurate and timely bills, as well as disconnect defaulting consumers. The MDMS was customised to include the prepaid functionality and it was integrated into the system as per the utility’s requirements.
CESC has been managing the metering requirements with its home-grown IT system. Its metering data is integrated with an outage management system and a customer relationship management system. The utility plans to scale up smart metering in the near future and MDM will become crucial in achieving functionalities like critical peak pricing, demand-side management (DSM), ToD tariffs and load profiling.
BSES Rajdhani Power Limited has been downloading data from meters since 2006. With its smart metering project, the utility is looking at meeting the objectives of DSM, demand curve management, network optimisation, consumer-safe electricity supply and outage management. Meanwhile, Powergrid has undertaken an AMI pilot in Puducherry and has been providing consultancy services to utilities in this space based on learnings from the pilot. At Puducherry, the MDMS helped clean and manage data and subsequently convert it into information that can be used by the utility.
Issues and challenges
The integration of multiple systems and technologies is one of the key challenges for utilities in smart metering and AMI implementation. The integration of MDMS with legacy systems and the utility’s existing IT infrastructure is crucial. Often, utilities deploy MDMS and head-end systems from different vendors, which poses integration issues. The customisation of MDMS to include the prepaid functionality is also challenging for utilities. Hence, reliable partners that have successfully integrated with different head-end systems and prepaid functionalities modules would be key for successful implementation.
Another challenge is choosing the right communication technology for AMI implementation. The communication backbone must be robust if smart meters have to feed data at regular intervals to the MDMS. Utilities typically deploy a mix of two to three communication technologies depending on factors such as the area to be served, number of consumers, network availability, etc. CESC, for instance, has opted for Wi-Fi, cellular and PoC for its smart metering programme that started in 2013. Meanwhile, APDCL has implemented RF and GPRS for smart metering. NBPDCL deployed GPRS initially and has now switched to the 4G network for smart meters. However, it is facing issues with the network in certain border areas close to Nepal. TPCODL is working on 4G, considering the demography of central Odisha. Since it is a cyclone-prone zone, RF was not considered and narrowband IoT was also not possible due to the lack of vendors in the state.
Reskilling employees and bringing about a cultural change is another key challenge for utilities. With advanced technologies, it becomes essential for utilities to enhance the skills of their IT workforce. In addition, an awareness within the organisation as well as among customers is essential. Installing MDMS may not yield the desired results, and sufficient process automation is required.
The way forward
With the changing power sector landscape, several utilities are expected to scale up the deployment of smart meters and MDMS. It is estimated that currently there are 1 billion smart meters operational in the world, which would grow to 1.3 billion by 2025 and India will play a major part in this growth story. The data from smart meters can help the grid become more resilient, secure and dependable, especially with the growth of distributed energy resources (DERs) such as solar panels and electric vehicles.
MDM also plays a crucial role in ensuring financial resilience of discoms through better billing efficiency, revenue protection and reduction of non-technical losses. All utilities may have different expectations from MDM, but bringing down unbilled revenue and improving collections is essential for Indian state-owned utilities. Going forward, utilities need to plan for the future as not only generation is becoming unpredictable due to renewables, load is also becoming variable due to DERs. Therefore, it will be crucial for discoms to manage the demand curve properly and understand consumer behaviour. MDMS will be crucial to provide such insights to utilities. Another important use case of MDM for utilities is capex deferment. Insights from MDM can help discoms utilise existing assets to their full potential and efficiency. This is crucial in the distribution segment as only once the entire operation/asset is made efficient can discoms make money. Other use cases include outage management and reliability improvement.
To deal with modern-day challenges and those that could arise in the future, MDMS has to be scalable, robust and capable enough to manage all kinds of data and not just meter data. In the future, utilities will receive data from multiple sources – IoT devices, DTs, sensors, breakers, etc. – and in multiple forms (digital, encrypted, etc.) and MDMS will become an indispensable tool for distribution utilities to address the future challenges.
Net, net, over the next decade or so, the metering landscape is expected to witness a paradigm shift and MDM is poised to become the focal point of the technological transformation of utilities