Picking up Pace

Advanced metering infrastructure finds growing uptake

Metering technology has evolved significantly over the past few years, from manual meter reading to automatic meter reading (AMR) and further to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). AMI is a prerequisite for smart meters and the basic building block for a smart grid. As utilities are moving towards the implementation of smart grid technologies, the adoption of AMI is increasing.

In recent years, the government has been trying to promote the installation of smart meters through policy initiatives. The Tariff Policy (amended in January 2016) is aimed at enabling faster installation of smart meters to enable time-of-day (ToD) metering, theft reduction and net metering. The revised policy states that the state electricity regulatory commissions should mandate smart meters for all consumers with consumption of more than 500 units per month by December 31, 2017 and for consumption of over 200 units per month by December 31, 2019. Besides, all the 10 smart grid pilot projects shortlisted by the Ministry of Power (MoP) in 2012, which are currently under implementation, have AMI as an important feature. Smart metering is a key component of several government programmes in the sector. For instance, the Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) envisages the installation of smart meters in towns with supervisory control and data acquisition systems. As of March 2016, about 110,000 smart meters were sanctioned under the IPDS. The deployment of smart meters is also one of the commitments required from the states under the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY). With a number of states joining UDAY, the MoP is planning a mega tender for smart meter procurement (for nearly 70,000 smart meters) for these states by aggregating the requirements of all states.

AMI benefits

AMI can be defined as a set of measurement, collection, storage and management systems and includes meters at the customer site, communication networks, data acquisition and management systems, and business systems. Unlike AMR, AMI enables two-way communication with the smart meter installed at the consumer’s end. This is an important feature of a smart meter as it ensures continuous monitoring of a household’s electricity. AMI comes with a range of other capabilities such as load management and outage handling, remote meter reading, remote connect and disconnect, self-diagnosis by the consumer, automated and timely billing, and a prepayment option.

AMI provides information to the consumer regarding the overall power usage including information on the electricity consumption pattern, granular information about consumption by devices inside the home, meter consumption reports, load profiling and history of usage. It also helps avail of the benefits of ToD tariffs by displaying dynamic pricing during peak and non-peak hours. The smart meter can function in prepaid and post-paid modes, as well as in net metering systems to calculate the bidirectional flow of electricity.

AMI provides a comprehensive account of consumers’ electricity consumption to the utility and enables faster complaint redressal, remote notification, and generation of timely bill and payment alerts. It also facilitate meter maintenance, and allows the self-discovery of faults. Further, since AMI enables real-time energy accounting, it can help reduce power theft and increase billing efficiency, thereby leading to a reduction in aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses.

Key components and standards

A typical AMI system comprises smart meters, data concentrator units (DCUs), head-end systems (HESs), meter data acquisition systems (MDAS) and meter data management systems (MDMS), which communicate over a bidirectional wide area network, neighbourhood area network/field area network and home area network (HAN). Multiple smart meters in a locality can connect to a DCU and send aggregated data to the HES of the utility through power line communication (PLC) or wireless communication. MDAS and MDMS together help manage the large volumes of data generated by smart metering systems, process the information to generate meaningful results as well as integrate the metering systems with enterprise-wide systems while acting as an interface for various applications within the utility. Appliances such as TVs, refrigerators and air conditioners can be a part of HAN, which can be controlled through the smart meter.

In September 2016, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) released a report, “Strategy for Roll-out of Smart Meters by States/Union Territories”, which suggests the use of radio frequency (RF)-based networks, power line carrier (PLC) or cellular networks or a combination of these to develop the communication infrastructure for smart meters. The CEA also released the “Functional Requirements for Smart Utilities” report in August 2016, focusing on AMI system requirements, communication infrastructure, network security, etc.

In August 2015, the Bureau of Indian Standards published the new Smart Meter Standard, “IS 16444: AC Static Direct Connected Watthour Smart Meter – Class 1 and 2 Specification”, covering single-phase energy meters and three-phase energy meters with net metering facility. Another standard, “IS 15959: Data Exchange for Electricity Meter Reading, Tariff and Load Control – Companion Specification”, was revised and published as IS 15959: Part 2-Smart Meter in March 2016.

Utility experience

Distribution utilities have so far implemented smart metering pilot projects to test the viability and benefits of the technology. CESC Limited has taken pioneering initiatives on this front. The discom started using smart meters in 2013 and has so far installed around 3,000 such meters in Kolkata for billing consumers under its first pilot project. The smart meters have led to a value addition in consumer service, enabled net metering as well as helped meet specific customer requirements. The utility has also initiated its second AMI pilot project, which entails the installation of 20,000 smart meters based on RF-mesh canopy in Kolkata. All ordering formalities for this pilot have been completed and the final end-to-end testing is in progress. CESC is undertaking another pilot project in a subdivision of Kota in Rajasthan with 20,000 smart meters where integration work is nearing completion. In addition, the discom plans to roll out about 250,000 smart meters based on the RF-mesh network for Kota and Bharatpur in the coming months.

Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (TPDDL) is another company to have launched smart metering pilots. Its first smart metering pilot project was launched in 2014 and involved the installation of 250 smart meters with RF communication along with automated demand response for commercial and industrial customers. In another pilot project, TPDDL installed 85 smart meters with PLC for domestic consumers. Recently, TPDDL announced its plans to install 200,000 smart electricity meters by December 2018 in the first phase.

Tata Power – Mumbai Distribution launched a project for AMI implementation through the installation of 5,000 smart meters in 2014. A contract for the supply of AMI solutions was awarded to Cyan, which provided the CyLec® AMI solution consisting of 865 MHz RF modules, DCUs, head-end server software licences, onsite software installation services and an annual software maintenance contract. The project was implemented in 2015 with Cyan RF modules being installed inside the Larsen & Toubro smart meters deployed by Tata Power. The smart meters have been integrated with Tata Power’s control centre, and are providing data to generate customer bills as well as real-time information on outages and other factors related to the quality of power.

Meanwhile, BSES Yamuna Power Limited has announced plans to introduce an AMI solution in the Delhi service area on a trial basis. In this context, the utility signed an agreement with UK-based Sensus to use FlexNet, its AMI solution with long-range radio technology, in November 2016.

Smart meters with different communication technologies have been installed under the Puducherry smart grid pilot project. This project includes distribution transformer monitoring solutions, fault passage indicators, smart street lighting systems, the integration of renewables through net metering, solar charging-based electric vehicles and microgrids.

Challenges and the way forward

The high cost of smart meters is a key impediment to their adoption by utilities. As per industry estimates, the cost per meter is around Rs 5,000 at present. The MoP is, reportedly, planning to release bulk tenders for the procurement of smart meters at a low cost for states that have signed up for UDAY. To this end, a model is being discussed wherein the contractor may bear the cost of meters initially and the state could repay it in the form of equated monthly instalments.

Regarding the smart meter roll-out strategy, the India Smart Grid Forum’s recent released draft Smart Grid Handbook for Policymakers and Regulators suggests that the discoms may prioritise the customers and locations for AMI deployment in phases. For instance, feeders having customers with high monthly consumption can be prioritised (over 1,000 units in the first phase, over 500 units in the next, and so on). Alternatively, feeders/pockets with high AT&C loss areas (over 15 per cent) or feeders/towns with high annual energy sales can be covered in the initial phases. The utilities should ensure that all new meters conform to the latest amendments of IS 16444 and IS 15959. Further, discoms may select the communication technology according to their needs and requirements.

Going forward, the adoption of smart metering technology is expected to pick up pace backed by strong government policy support.

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