Mixed Success

Smart meter uptake and key challenges

In an attempt to address the challenges facing the distribution segment, the government has set a target to install 130 million smart meters by 2021. Load management, transparency, reduction in aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, integration of renewables, 24×7 power supply and improved customer services are some of the key benefits expected from this drive.

Smart meters offer a range of intelligent functions including remote meter reading, communication management, bill scheduling, load and demand side management. They can also record consumption at intervals of 30 minutes or less, communicate information back to the utility for monitoring and billing purposes, provide online updates to users to facilitate efficient energy usage and reduce electricity bills.

A look at the uptake so far, the challenges faced by utilities, and recent policy initiatives in this space…

Smart metering industry

India has made significant advances in smart metering technology. It is not only at par with global technological developments, but is a world leader in addressing tamper and fraud issues related to metering. Notably, the world’s first smart meter was developed in India in 1988. According to the Indian Electrical and Electronics Manufacturers’ Association, India has comprehensive design and manufacturing capabilities, producing 25 million-30 million smart meters annually. Around one-third of the global smart meters and smart technology design or engineering is based in the country Indian companies have implemented advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) in both developed and developing economies, and continue to export smart meters.

Despite the early start and the proliferation of indigenous smart metering technology, distribution companies have had mixed success with smart meters. Few discoms have been able to really utilise the data produced, and many have faced challenges right from the system integration level.

Challenges in uptake 

Distribution companies have been unable to derive the full benefits of electronic meters because they have not made the changes required to convert raw data into effective business decisions. Many discoms have failed to build computing and IT systems or support teams to glean the maximum benefits from installed smart meters. Power system conditions like surges, spikes, over-voltage, high temperature, poor installation and power theft have further inhibited the success of smart meter implementation. Another limiting factor has been that utilities follow the L1 criterion of procurement without assessing the capability or quality of smart meters when awarding equipment contracts. Also, the persistent lag in meter data collection has meant that details about the drivers or variability in energy loss have not been understood. Therefore, discoms have been unable to perceive the benefits from installing electronic meters. This discourages regulators from approving the expense of smart meters, especially in case a static meter has recently been replaced.

Policy initiatives

Recognising the benefits of implementing smart meters, many industry initiatives have included smart metering in their ambit. For example, the 14 smart grid pilot projects launched in 2012 by the power ministry had smart meters and AMI as key features, with a target of installing about 300,000 smart meters across the projects.

Also, the Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS), launched in November 2014, envisages the installation of smart meters in supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)-enabled towns. As part of this scheme, an estimated 11,000 smart meters were sanctioned till March 2016 to replace static meters for feeders, distribution transformers (DTs) and unmetered consumer connections, electromechanical meters and faulty meters. Also, prepaid and smart meters need to be put in place, besides automatic meter reading (AMR) infrastructure, for feeders, DTs and high load consumers.

The National Smart Grid Mission, launched in November 2015 to fund and implement smart grid projects, also emphasises the role of smart meters.

The Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana launched in 2015 has mandated smart meters for all consumers with more than 200 units of monthly consumption and has a stated target to install 35 million smart meters by December 2019.

Further, the Central Electricity Authority published functional requirements and technical specifications for smart meters in June 2013, and functional requirements for AMI in August 2016, addressing the problem of interoperability that existed before the establishment of specifications.

Conclusion

Although distribution companies have had mixed success in the implementation of smart grid technology, the future remains positive given the favourable technology and policy environment. Moreover, because smart metering is such an optimal solution for the key issue of reducing AT&C losses, it will find traction among distribution utilities.

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