Smart meters offer numerous benefits across the power sector value chain. They facilitate reduction in transmission and distribution losses, help in peak load management, which leads to more efficient asset management, and improve quality and reliability of service. Besides, they significantly lower the power purchase cost. They are also pivotal in renewable integration and in increasing accessibility to electricity with microgrid infrastructure. Options such as time-of-use (ToU) tariff, demand response programmes and net metering improve grid performance, keeping customers satisfied and utilities financially sound.
The adoption and deployment of smart meters has been growing. It is one of the top priorities of the government policies. In view of the growing renewable energy integration, smart meters provide real-time analysis of consumer usage, which helps stabilise grids and mitigate intermittency. The increase in electric vehicles (EVs) requires more EV charging stations which strains the grid. With real-time monitoring and smart meter-enabled demand response management and ToU tariffs, one can strike a coordinated balance between utilities and EV owners as to when they can charge and avoid straining the grid.
Overall, consumer demand for electricity is growing and consumers now seek personalised services that enable them to optimise usage and reduce bills. Besides, utilities need to address the issue of dynamic power demand and smart meters come in handy by bridging the information gap and enhancing grid resilience.
Metering progress under government programmes
Smart metering is being actively promoted by the National Smart Grid Mission, Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS), smart grid pilots and utility initiatives, among others. As of June 2023, a total of 22.98 million smart consumer meters have been sanctioned under various schemes, including the utility’s own initiatives, while 6.53 million meters have been installed. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of installed smart meters in the country, at nearly 1.16 million, followed by Bihar (1.14 million).
The RDSS focuses on smart metering in a big way. An outlay of around Rs 1,500 billion and gross budgetary support of Rs 230 billion has been envisaged under the scheme. A total of 250 million smart meters are targeted to be installed under the scheme by 2025-26 under design-build-finance-operate-transfer mode through public-private partnership. The scheme also promotes system metering at the feeder and distribution transformer level with a communicating feature. Additionally, the required advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) will be implemented. As per a report by the Lok Sabha (February 2023), 204.62 million prepaid smart meters, 5.41 million distribution transformer meters and 198,826 feeder meters have been sanctioned across 28 states (46 discoms) under the RDSS, at a total sanctioned cost of around Rs 1.35 trillion. Tenders for smart metering works, covering nearly 103 million prepaid smart meters for consumer metering and 3.8 million system meters (DT and feeder) have already been issued.
One of the crucial aspects of the success of smart metering solutions is interoperability and communication with other grid devices. Communication technologies play a vital role on this front. Broadly, communication technology used by smart meters is categorised, based on the transmission medium used, that is, wired and wireless technologies. The conventional and popular technologies for AMI are power line communications or PLC, which is wired, and radio frequency (RF) mesh, which is wireless. With the growth in 2G and 3G connectivity, other technologies based on cellular IoT technology are gaining prominence. Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) offers widespread cellular connectivity with a large number of partner networks. It is one of the latest additions to the cellular IoT technologies. It costs less than any other machine-to-machine technology in the market, with extensive global network coverage and is extremely reliable. It can be easily added on existing PLC/RF mesh infrastructure, which increases the reach of smart metering as manual meter reading in remote areas is no longer needed. The technology does not require concentrators or gateway devices and also offers data visualisation with unified dashboards.
A case in point is long-term evolution technology, also popularly known as 4G LTE technology, which has spread rapidly across the world. Notably, cellular IoT has done away with the need to deploy its own infrastructure as it relies on the networks provided by mobile operators, resulting in significant cost savings. The latest technology now enables utilities to leverage both RF mesh and IoT cellular communications specifications and technologies for connectivity.
There are now meters available that offer interoperability within multivendor environments. The new capability is vital for utilities partnering with various technology providers in smart grid and energy modernisation programmes.
Improving consumer satisfaction and experience will be one of the key enablers in the adoption of smart meters. The recent CEEW study, “Enabling a Consumer-centric Smart Metering Transition in India”, which carries insights from a survey of six Indian states, notes that consumers have reported that the fewer issues they face during the smart meter installation process, the more it increases the chances of their adoption of the technology, and the more likely they are to recommend it. When consumers are able to access detailed bills, they are more likely to adopt the technology. Most of the consumers perceived that smart meters give them better control over their electricity expenses and that smart meters have helped reduce electricity theft in their locality.
That said, there is expected to be accelerated deployment of smart meters, going forward. This will be supported by technological advancements, increased consumer awareness and government schemes, among other things. However, with the increased penetration of smart meters, it is essential to enhance cybersecurity measures and ensure data privacy.