India’s smart metering plans are progressing from the pilot stages to full-scale deployment. From around 1-2 million smart meters installed under various pilot projects and by private discoms so far, Indian utilities plan to install 22 million smart meters over the next two years under the UDAY scheme. Of these, 5 million smart meters are expected to be installed by December 2017 for consumers above the 500 units consumption threshold, and the remaining 17 million smart meters by December 2019 for consumers with a consumption threshold of above 200 units and up to 500 units.
These targets are steep and the progress on the ground so far seems less than satisfactory. None of the 22 UDAY states (data for which is available) seems to be close to achieving their targets. Only 3 per cent of the smart meters targeted in the above 500 unit consumption category have been installed so far, while only 1 per cent of the target has been met for the other category. As regulators point out, consumers cannot be charged for smart meters and hence, the financially weak discoms are finding it hard to invest in meter replacements, which is leading to slow progress on the ground.
The government is thus helping the utilities to achieve these targets in a number of ways. Like providing funding support under various government programmes, finalising specifications, revisiting guidelines to make them suitable for Indian requirements and, most importantly, through ensuring competitive prices for smart meters. To this end, a first-of-its-kind smart meter procurement tender was issued earlier this year by the Ministry of Power for procuring a massive 4 million meters, which will be deployed in two big states – Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. As with the LED bulb bulk procurement exercise, the prices quoted by vendors in this tender saw a significant drop, of as much as 40-50 per cent, in prevailing market prices.
The business case for smart metering for utilities that are losing as much as 20-21 per cent of the power transmitted due to aggregate technical and non-technical losses is compelling. The quick roll-out of smart meters, as proposed by the targets, are plausible. What is needed are concerted efforts by utilities and other stakeholders to achieve these goals on time.