Innovative Initiatives: Increasing focus by IGL on automating and digitalising its operations

The city gas distribution (CGD) sector is working towards the adoption of automation and advanced technologies to lower costs, improve operational efficiency and ena­ble real-time monitoring. To this end, Indra­pra­stha Gas Limited (IGL) has implemented the latest information technology-related services for its customers and stakeholders with the aim of enhancing the overall user experience.

IGL is a pioneer in the CGD sector. Incor­po­rated in 1998, IGL took over the Delhi City Gas Distribution Project in 1999 from GAIL (India) Limited. Under this, IGL was required to lay the network for the distribution of natural gas in the National Capital Territory of Delhi to consumers in the domestic, transport and commercial sectors. With the backing of strong promoters, such as GAIL and Bharat Petroleum Cor­poration Limited, IGL has been providing natural gas to the entire capital region. As of September 2023, the company has more than 790 operational compressed natural gas (CNG) stations in eight geographical areas. Fur­ther, it supplies gas to over 2.4 million domestic piped natural gas (PNG) customers and over 9,000 commercial and industrial customers. The company is increasingly focusing on the automation and digitalisation of operations to optimise internal business processes. IGL has always endorsed a customer-centric approach and has been making continuous efforts to up­grade its services by leveraging technology and embracing digital innovations.

Digitalisation at CNG outlets

IGL is also a pioneer in the deployment of digital technologies in the CGD industry. In terms of technology deployment, IGL has adopted digital innovations across its value chain, from CNG stations to its PNG customers (domestic and in­dustrial). IGL was the first CGD player in the industry to deploy the CNG Queue Management System. Through a mobile application, the system provides information regarding the av­e­rage waiting time at a CNG station, along with an alternative CNG station nearby. Customers can also check the waiting time for three broad vehicle categories, that is, buses, cars and auto rickshaws. It was deployed with the primary aim of providing seamless information and convenie­n­ce to consumers. At present, it is deployed at 65 IGL outlets on a pilot basis.

Another digital initiative that IGL is working on is the automatic detection of vehicle validation plates upon entering an IGL CNG station. The data analytics and cameras capture the vehicle’s number and identify whether the vehicle has a valid licence for fuelling from the Pet­roleum and Explosives Safety Organisa­tion web­­site. The deployment of this innovation is still in the pilot stage. It has been deployed at IGL’s Shanti Bagh CNG station in the National Capital Region. Apart from this, IGL also offers an end-to-end solution for payments and bill printing directly from CNG dispensers. It has also implemented digital payments throu­gh UPI and Paytm at its CNG outlets.

The biggest challenge for the CGD industry is customer convenience. Algorithms need to be articulated in order to develop a digital method for analysing queuing patterns, determining the required number of dispensers, etc. In order to compete with petrol, diesel and electric vehicles, it is essential for the CGD industry to work towards reducing wait times to as little as five to seven minutes, ensuring that waiting is not an inconvenience for consumers. Apart from this, IGL has deployed a supervisory control and data acquisition system which connects and integrates its network. It enables the live viewing of real-time data across all stations. It also helps in monitoring pressure flow, field regulating station (FRS) flow, etc.

IGL was the first CGD player in the country to install smart printers at its outlets about seven to eight years ago. This way, customers could get printed bills from IGL’s automated dispenser. Over the past year, IGL has been working with Pine Labs to fully automate all of its outlets, from payments to billing. The pilot has been successfully implemented at 14 locations. Recently, IGL floated tenders for the full automation of 710 retail outlets.

Digitalisation for PNG connections

IGL has undertaken various digital initiatives and adopted IT-based solutions to upgrade its services. For PNG customers, IGL has its own application that provides a range of services, including bill payments, billing and payment history, lodging complaints, viewing complaint statuses, sharing feedback, updating mobile and phone numbers, submitting meter readings and making online payments. Many customers have adopted online bill payment, while the proportion of customers who opt for self-billing is minuscule. Additionally, IGL has deployed the geographic information system (GIS) for mapping CGD pipelines and infrastructure. Within the GIS framework, software and hardware com­ponents are used to capture, store, analyse and present spatial data on pipelines.

Deployment of smart meters

IGL has initiated a pilot for the deployment of smart meters in Rewari, Haryana. Of the 0.3 million connections targeted for next year, IGL plans to deploy nearly 0.1 million smart meter connections by 2024. The tender for this initiative is under formulation and expected to be invited soon. By implementing the smart metering solution, IGL aims to eliminate hum­an errors caused by manual meter reading, optimise capacity planning and improve cash flows. IGL further plans to deploy smart meters in all newly authorised geographical areas. This strategy is expected to lower collection and monitoring charges for the organisation. However, the scalability of smart meter deployment is a key challenge faced by many CGD players.

Currently, nearly 70 per cent of meters deployed in Delhi are automatic meter reading (AMR) meters, with the remaining being manual me­ters. AMR meters deployed by IGL are equipped with internet of things technologies such as LoRa, LoRaWAN and Bluetooth. Some key benefits of AMR systems include on-time collection of readings, updated consumption data for accurate billing, detailed analysis, regular interface with systems, and applications and products in data processing for invoicing.

In a significant development, Genesis Gas Solutions has been awarded a contract for supplying ultrasonic gas meters to IGL. According to reports, the ultrasonic meters will be deployed by IGL for custody applications (a business segment for supplying natural gas for industrial and commercial applications). These meters offer better accuracy regarding the flow of gases as compared to conventional meters. The demand for smart gas metering solutions is increasing due to the expanding gas market. Further, Gene­sis Gas is also collaborating with IGL to set up India’s first integrated smart meter manufacturing plant. The establishment of this new plant is expected to entail an investment to the tune of Rs 1.10 billion. It is expected to commence operations by 2024, with an annual manufacturing capacity of nearly 1 million meters.

Tackling cybercrimes

IGL has a robust system for sharing data. Wh­enever any data is shared, a non-confidential agreement is signed in order to avoid data breach. In the past 25 years, IGL has successfully avoided data breaches owing to a strong cybersecurity network. It manages its digital data with a focus on accuracy, security, accessibility and data analysis. The company also places a strong emphasis on increasing transparency to ensure accountability.

The way forward

IGL continues to augment its infrastructure to cater to the rising demand, driven by the growing number of CNG vehicles and increasing gas demand in Delhi.  IGL is digitally connected th­ro­u­ghout its value chain and consistently innovates to ensure better operations. This innovation includes exploring new technologies, experimenting with new solutions and finding ways to improve existing systems and processes. IGL is focused on investing in digital solutions, not only for generating profits but also for enhancing customer convenience and experience. Go­ing forward, the company will focus on automating its operations and maintenance procedures, and has floated tenders for the same. It aims to digitalise and automate most of its operations and maintenance by 2024.

With inputs from Rajeev Kumar, Executive Director, O&M and Marketing, Indraprastha Gas Limited, at a recent India Infrastructure conference