In an effort to minimise the country’s carbon footprint, the government has committed to increase its natural gas use to 15 per cent by 2030. However, it is anticipated that India’s natural gas reserves would be depleted by 2040, doubling the price of domestically produced gas due to scarcity. In the next two years, India will begin importing natural gas through pipelines constructed along the country’s borders, shifting the urban households to pipeline gas for energy and cooking sources.
With the price of gas increasing and the local supply decreasing, the government and suppliers are collaborating to find ways to monitor, conserve and reduce the loss of gas by leveraging technology. The government intends to connect 70 million gas meters over the next 10 years, with the majority of them manufactured and supplied by local original equipment manufacturers.
Smart metering is being adopted to help achieve the city gas distribution (CGD) industry’s long-term growth objectives. Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL) is embarking on an ambitious network expansion plan by switching from a manual post-paid metering solution to an internet of things (IoT)-based smart gas metering system that improves efficiency as well as the customer experience.
IGL became the first CGD company to deploy smart metering technology in the country by installing prepaid smart gas meters in Rewari district of Haryana in 2019. As of August 2022, IGL has installed 400,000 automatic meter reading (AMR) systems and 11,500 prepaid smart meters in the domestic segment, and 6,300 AMR and 20 prepaid smart meters in the commercial and industrial (C&I) segment. AMR improves distribution point reconciliation and loss management. It also provides all the information via dashboards. Automatic billing, remote location monitoring and end-to-end data security are some of the additional perks.
Some of the Make in India smart metering products by IGL are the mechanical gas meter G1.6G4, smart prepaid/ post-paid gas meter G1.6G4, and the ultrasonic gas meter G4-G25. Apart from this, the commercial gas meter G4-G25, smart commercial gas meter G4-G25, and the electronic volume corrector are some of the products developed in partnership with Zenner International.
The different types of prepaid metering solutions include near-field communication (NFC)-based prepaid meters, mobile application-based smart prepaid meters, and smart prepaid gas meters.
In NFC-based prepaid meters, the card is the accounting method with the capacity to store data/gas consumption up to 90-180 days. The kiosk is the communication point of the card, and is required at a range of 1 km for every 1,000 metres. This smart meter, however, is not feasible for scattered installation. For mobile application-based smart prepaid meters, the mobile application point of sale is the account method that has the capacity to store data/gas consumption for 90 days in the card. However, the kiosk needs to be recharged in order to obtain data on gas consumption.
With fast changing technologies, innovative solutions are coming up in the smart metering space. These include ultrasonic meters and thermal mass flow meters that have interoperability with other utility bills. There are various technologies available for communication in smart gas metering such as walk-by system, data concentrator, global system for mobile communications (GSM) and general packet radio services-based communication, and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT).
A prepaid smart meter should be chosen on the basis of the different technologies available, price difference, high lead time, and its operation and execution strategy.
In a recent development, Vikas Lifecare Limited recently acquired 75 per cent equity of Genesis Gas Solutions Private Limited, which has successfully developed and integrated LoRa technology meter interface units with prepaid and post-paid gas meters deployed at Indraprastha Gas Limited. Genesis is in advanced stages of designing and manufacturing LoRa modem, LoRa gateways and application servers for LoRa end devices.
LoRa end devices and networks such as the LoRaWAN enable smart IoT applications that address some of the biggest challenges facing the planet like smart energy management, natural resource reduction, pollution control, infrastructure efficiency and disaster prevention. LoRaWAN-enabled smart advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) gas meters provide end-to-end automated mechanisms including wireless communication, secure data transfer and real-time analytics. These mechanisms provide the end customers, in this case utilities, distribution companies and city administrators, a clear view of their day-to-day processes. This helps manage the entire distribution ecosystem in a much more efficient manner enabling the city administration to predict consumer behaviour and losses, and most importantly influence behavioural changes among consumers by creating better awareness of gas saving strategies.
Ripple Metering has expanded its customer base, and its clients can now monitor the gas supply and receive automated billing. Customers prefer the Ripple Metering products because it offers constant data flow with real-time insights, reducing the maintenance-related activities and increasing savings. It is already taking advantage of the existing LoRaWAN infrastructure by connecting other solutions and devices such as smart water meters and smart electricity meters, which increase their return on investments. It plans to provide the same solutions to smart cities across India.
One of the main challenges for gas distribution companies is non-revenue losses. Companies are realising the only way to control and increase their revenue base is smart metering, which can provide real-time feedback on gas consumption and reduce gas demand from external sources.
Smart gas metering is different from smart electricity metering. While electricity meters are easily powered through the main line and can rely on an existing electric network, smart gas meters need to rely on a battery-powered and wireless infrastructure as they are prone to gas-related accidents. In addition, there are issues pertaining to the shortage of skilled manpower. Besides, there are limited domestic vendors available for smart meters, limiting the scale of adoption.
The other challenges pertain to interoperability, communication, cybersecurity, meter data management, and limited domestic vendors.
Digitalisation and smart metering help utilities make data-driven and faster business decisions, increase operational efficiency and decrease downtime, and improve customer service and satisfaction. They are also necessary for the transformation of traditional utilities into smart utilities. The timely billing of services, effective revenue collection and enhanced consumer experience are a win-win for both consumers and utilities.
In the near future, IGL plans to deploy 54,000 more prepaid smart meters in the domestic segment along with 100 per cent AMR in the C&I segment. IGL is now exploring the possibility of converting domestic metering to smart prepaid meters.
With inputs from Anupe Francis, Chief Manager, Indraprastha Gas Limited, and Sundeep Rastogi, Sales and Business Development Manager, Capital Powers, at a recent India Infrastructure conference