New Technology Applications

Discom initiatives to improve efficiency and consumer services

Rajasthan’s aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses currently stand at 28.86 per cent, almost 5 per cent higher than the national average of 23.9 per cent. Apart from the high AT&C losses, the state’s distribution segment has also been debt-laden and faces severe financial stress with an average cost of supply-average rate of return gap of Re 0.28 per unit.

Recognising these challenges, the state discoms have been working to address these issues through the use of technology, metering and IT initiatives. Some of the solutions being implemented by these utilities are spot billing, feeder monitoring systems, geo-tagging, mobile apps, new metering practices, and improved customer services.

A look at the key measures that have been taken by Jaipur Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited (JVVNL) and Jodhpur Vidhyut Vitran Nigam Limited (JdVVNL) to modernise their operations…

JVVNL

Amongst the three discoms, JVVNL has the highest AT&C losses of 32.49 per cent as on June 30, 2017 (as per the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana website). The discom undertakes distribution and supply of electricity in 12 districts of Rajasthan.

As a first step to improve its performance, JVVNL has identified common consumer complaints and grouped them under various heads such as billing-related issues, metering-related issues, supply-related issues and vigilance.

Billing-related issues are those that pertain to arrears in billing, delays in bill delivery and abnormal consumption. Supply-related issues refer to the absence of real-time tracking of parameters such as low voltage, frequent tripping and lack of electricity. Metering-related complaints include burnt meters and faulty or fast-running meters.

So far, there have been limited avenues of approaching officials for registering complaints. There is often a time lag between filing a complaint and its redressal. There have also been vigilance-related issues, as there is no procedure for recording of appeals; at times, there are even complaints of consumer harassment.

To address these issues, JVVNL is working on a number of initiatives. First, it has devised a revenue management mechanism with a focus on spot billing. Under this, the process of readings is automated and is, therefore, error-free. This leads to a reduction in average billing cases as the bill is generated on the spot rather than manually. This makes the bill verification process a lot easier and reduces the time between meter reading and bill delivery from 15 days to zero days.

From the discom’s perspective too, the spot billing software enables real-time data uploads to the central server and facilitates bidirectional communication with the central server using the standard mobile network. It supports the instant credit of consumer charge and allowance register amount in the database. JVVNL has been experimenting and improving its spot billing system for a few years now. Although it will take some time for it to be implemented across the Jaipur discom’s entire jurisdiction, it will go a long way in increasing efficiency  and improving customer services.

To give consumers more payment options, JVVNL is undertaking on-the-spot payment collection. Consumers can choose to pay either online, on-the-spot or through payment gateways. Instant updates of collections are recorded in the system. The billing cycle has also changed from bi-monthly to monthly billing. With improved collections, the discom’s working capital requirements have also reduced significantly.

Another key initiative has been the deployment of a feeder management system wherein parameters pertaining to 11 kV feeders, such as load, frequency and voltage level, are captured by the feeder in-charge/discom officers. This data is used for carrying out energy audits and performance monitoring.

The feeder monitoring system also provides information on how much power is being supplied to agricultural consumers. It allows the feeder in-charge to take early action on feeder-related issues. The feeder management system is linked with the revenue management billing software, which enables estimation of the loss incurred due to the provision of subsidised electricity and gauging of whether the consumer has been billed incorrectly. Further, the feeder monitoring system helps the discom to review the substation/feeder interruption status and calculate the System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI) and the System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI).

The feeder in-charge is also responsible for consumer issues related to metering. Instant actions are initiated by the feeder in-charge for defective meters, database updation and reduced instances of average billing.

Another key initiative taken by JVVNL has been the launch of mobile applications such as “Bijli Mitra” for consumers and “Bijli Prabandh” for the company’s management. Bijli Mitra provides an easy-to-access platform to consumers to register complaints relating to defective meters or burnt transformers and make bill payments online. Further, consumers can track the status of their complaints through a unique ID assigned to them and view their consumption and billing history. A major upside of the app is that the complaint registered cannot be closed without intimation to the consumer. This helps the discom in instant database updation and prompt action initiation on defective meters or other related matters. Moreover, having in place a digital payment mechanism does away with the need for cumbersome payment collection and reduces the working capital requirement for the company. JVVNL was the first utility to implement on-demand meter testing at the consumer premises in all circles.

For the management, JVVNL’s Bijli Prabandh mobile application provides records of revenue collection, a list of defaulters, the status of reading collection and data on disconnection. It gives feeder-wise details as well, which facilitates easy detection of defective meters. It also includes features such as a meter reader locator, which locates the meter readers using a live database and Google Maps, and a meter reader performance tracker, which compares the meter readers.

JVVNL also has a vigilance tracking system to tackle the issue of power theft and corruption. Despite several measures being taken to curtail power theft, this still remains a big concern for the electricity sector in Rajasthan as it causes huge transmission and distribution losses to the discoms and affects their financial condition. To improve vigilance, one of the strategies being used by the utility is capturing site conditions with georeferences and photographs. Further, backdated vigilance checking report (VCR) generation is prohibited. Usually, when an official reports a theft at a site, a VCR is issued against a consumer, who is then informed about the penalty that needs to be paid. A delay in the assessment of the VCRs results in procrastination in the penalty collection, causing financial losses to the discom. With the enforcement of on-site filing of VCRs, the vigilance system is expected to become much more systematic.

To regularise illegal consumption of electricity, the discom is working towards the enforcement of the legal provisions of the Electricity Act, 2003 and lodging of FIRs against offenders. Vigilance forces are also assigned the task of containing large-scale energy theft.

JdVVNL

Under the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and distribution automation have already been initiated by JdVVNL. Grid analytics and an advanced distribution management system are expected to commence next year, as these can be initiated only when the basic building blocks such as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and SCADA are in place.

JdVVNL is planning to undertake various initiatives for grid modernisation. These include SCADA, data management system (DMS), and outage management system (OMS) with features like integration of smart meter data/distributed generation integration and single data model from GIS. Implementation of a smart healing concept is also planned, which would enable the discom to show how intelligently the network fault is identified and how healthy portions are restored automatically, ensuring a high level of reliability.

The discom also plans to focus on meter data management systems (MDMS), which are essential for capturing and storing customer data. Further, the utility is mulling over setting up a portal where outages can be tracked, both from the utility and the customer side. With advanced analytics and reporting features, data-driven business decisions can be taken. Also, maintenance inspection and service response features are proposed to be adequately focused on. Systems that consolidate data for use by other systems are also proposed to be strengthened.

Further, the utility is considering implementing building-level, automatic demand-side management of both lighting and air-conditioning load. Integration of solar and storage as well as the formation of a microgrid to isolate buildings are planned.

According to JdVVNL, the goal is to give consumers more control in monitoring and managing their appliances, electricity consumption, etc. through interactive and knowledge-based kiosks to increase consumer awareness about various applications and their usage.

Apart from these, OMS, demand response technologies such as end-user interfaces, load control devices as well as AMI are expected to be employed in the near future.

Another emerging requirement for the utility is the concept of home area network (HAN), which is becoming popular among utilities seeking to establish a robust smart grid system. HAN has major implications for homeowners, utilities and smart grid vendors.

Conclusion

The technology initiatives outlined by the discoms along with other performance improvement initiatives under various government programmes are expected to help the state discoms improve their efficiency, reduce losses and meet the state’s growing energy needs in a sustainable manner.

With inputs from a presentation by Naveen Arora, Director, Technical, JVVNL

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