In recent years, revamping the metering infrastructure with the adoption of smart meters has been one of the key focus areas of distribution utilities. Smart meters can improve the operational and financial performance of discoms by automatically generating bills, preventing delayed payments through the remote disconnections feature, and reducing aggregate technical and commercial losses, among other things. Around 11,249,751 smart meters have been sanctioned across the country and 4,463,581 smart meters have been installed (as per the NSGM dashboard, accessed on June 14, 2022). Additionally, installation of 6,786,170 smart meters is under process.
The central government has undertaken various programmes and initiatives for implementing smart metering across the country. Scheme-wise, over 810,257 smart meters have been installed under the Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) while 138,950 smart meters have been installed under the National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM). In addition to this, 79,742 smart meters have been installed under the Prime Minister’s Development Package (PMDP) and 38,400 under the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY). Among agencies, Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) has installed 2,660,750 smart meters and REC Power Development and Consultancy Limited has installed 103,891 smart meters. Further, power utilities have cumulatively installed 1,560,229 smart meters and PFC Consulting Limited has installed 138,711 smart meters.
Key recent developments
BSES power discoms in Delhi – BSES Rajdhani Power Limited and BSES Yamuna Power Limited – are undertaking installation of 5 million smart meters with a capital outlay of up to Rs 40 billion. The tender for the procurement of smart meters was floated on June 17, 2022. The smart meter installation is planned from October 2022 and is expected to be completed by March 2025. Reportedly, BSES has received interest from around 18 companies. Among the Indian firms that have come forward during the expression of interest round are HPL Electric and Power Limited, Secure Meters, Adani Transmission Limited, Larsen & Toubro Limited. Finland-based Wirepas, EDF France, Enel Italy, Bosch Germany, and Itron and Exeleron from the US are among the international companies that have evinced interest.
In March 2022, EDF completed the installation of 500,000 smart prepaid meters in Bihar. The milestone marks the completion of the latest phase of what will be a 5 million smart meter deployment by EDF and Accenture in India. The contract with state-owned EESL was launched in October 2018. The $70 million contract covers the design of the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), installation of smart meters, their integration with the existing billing system of the electricity distribution companies, and operations and maintenance of the system for a period of eight years.
In November 2021, IntelliSmart Infrastructure Private Limited, a joint venture of the National Infrastructure Investment Fund and EESL, secured its first order to install more than 600,000 prepaid smart meters in 19 circles of Assam. This is the country’s first ever competitively bid smart metering project by any state in TOTEX mode (capex + opex).
In July 2021, the Ministry of Power (MoP) announced the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme with an overall outlay of Rs 3.03 trillion, to improve the operational efficiency and financial sustainability of discoms by providing result-linked financial assistance. Among other things, the scheme envisages the installation of around 250 million prepaid smart meters for all consumers except agricultural consumers. Priority will be given to all 500 Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) cities; union territories; industrial and commercial consumers including micro, small and medium enterprises; government offices (at the block level and above); and high-loss areas. As per the latest available information, the government has approved proposals of 13 states under this scheme. The total approval for smart metering so far is around Rs 877.35 billion.
Progress under smart metering
NSGM: Under the NSGM, as of now, 138,950 smart meters have been installed out of the 723,433 sanctioned. Four smart grid projects have been sanctioned under this programme and are at various stages of development.
Under the smart grid pilot projects, as of May 2022, 24,149 smart meters have been installed by the Chandigarh Electricity Division in Subdivision 5 to cater to 29,433 consumers and Jaipur Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited has installed 115,608 smart meters to cater to 0.15 million consumers. For the project to be implemented in the rest of the city of Chandigarh, a revised sanction has been issued under the MoP and the award is in process. For the project under Jharkhand Bijli Vitran Nigam Limited, a financial bid evaluation report has been sent to the World Bank. The project entails the deployment of smart meters, automated metering infrastructure, distribution transformer monitoring units, enterprise resource planning, and supervisory control and data acquisition systems.
Smart Meter National Programme (SMNP): EESL is implementing the SMNP to provide smart meters to utilities on rental basis for replacing conventional meters. The programme aims to replace 250 million conventional meters in India with smarter versions in order to increase billing efficiencies and reduce the aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) loss of the discoms. IntelliSmart has signed agreements for smart meters with Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, the New Delhi Municipal Council, Rajasthan and Telangana, and for prepaid meters with Uttar Pradesh and Tripura. The programme has a unique characteristic of the opex model that seeks no upfront capex from discoms or state governments and is modelled on the PPP framework. Apart from this, IntelliSmart has won an order from the Assam government to install about 620,000 smart meters in the state.
As per the SMNP dashboard accessed in June 2022, around 1.57 million smart meters have been installed, and the average discom revenues increased by 20.5 per cent, amounting to an increase of Rs 301 per month per meter. AT&C losses were reduced by 11-36 per cent on an average. Billing efficiency improved by 21 per cent, and the total revenue increased by Rs 2.64 billion per annum for about 1.1 million smart meters.
Looking at the success of smart meters, several states such as Assam, Tripura, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Gujarat and Karnataka have expressed interest in installing these and the contours are being worked out. The SMNP is under discussion for implementation in Jammu & Kashmir (for 913,132 smart meters), West Bengal (for 2 million smart meters) and Arunachal Pradesh (for 182,699 smart meters).
IPDS: According to latest data from the IPDS portal, for smart metering, the total approved project cost and project management agency cost is around Rs 2.29 billion and the total government grant is Rs 1.44 billion, of which Rs 812.4 million has been released.
Challenges and the way forward
The key challenge in deploying smart meters is that these devices are more than simple hardware components; they necessitate the automation of all associated processes, from meter reading to billing and payment. Utilities need to provide communications infrastructure that can be remotely and securely updated. It is difficult to integrate data from smart meters with the head end system, the meter data management system and the billing and collection software. The entire process must run smoothly across the communications value chain and be automated using cloud-based services. Reliable and secure communications infrastructure is also imperative for the smooth operation of smart metering infrastructure. Depending on their needs and requirements, utilities can choose from an available array of technologies including fibre optics, power line communication, radio frequency mesh, cellular network and narrowband internet of things.
Given the large volumes of data to be generated, a key focus area for discoms is expected to be meter data management systems for consolidating and storing data from the meters and deriving useful actionable inferences through meter data analytics. For this, next-generation technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and internet of things could also be useful. That said, in order to accelerate the adoption of smart meters, there is a need to address issues pertaining to interoperability, integration of the legacy billing system, and manpower training. Besides, with the growing interconnectedness and access to granular power consumption data, maintaining data privacy and ensuring cybersecurity are paramount.