Interview with Amit Vaidya: Director, Strategic Customer Team, India, Sensus-A Xylem brand

Director, Strategic Customer Team, India, Sensus-A Xylem brand

What is your view on the smart meter market in India? What is the outlook, going forward?

India has the largest smart meter market in the world. Factors such as government policies, mandates, accurate billing and improved customer service are driving the demand for smart meters across the board. Residential customers make up a large number of end-users of smart meters, followed by commercial and industrial customers. To address the prevailing challenges of power loss and theft, the Ministry of Power is advancing an aggressive roll-out programme to ensure India’s success. With strong government support and a clear desire by private utilities to pursue smart metering, India is primed for the next smart meter revolution.

What are the new and emerging utility requirements for smart metering?

There is a lot depending on a network – metering and billing, distribution automation and demand response, to name but a few. This is why it is so important to have an efficient and robust network. These workhorses require a communications system with speed, reliability and security. Utilities need a network that enables them to prioritise the data collected from various applications, that is, information regarding system integrity and outage management.

Communication networks should also be standards-based, not proprietary. Furthermore, they must be designed for the future and be flexible enough to support the long-term needs of the utility and its customers for decades. These requirements call for a licensed and dedicated radio solution, operating across a long range and typically at a frequency lower than GPRS for better obstacle penetration and coverage.

What are the key issues and challenges hampering the uptake of smart metering solutions by utilities? How can these be overcome?

At present, around 32 per cent of Indians live in urban areas. Particular geographical conditions as per different cities and different categories of consumers being served by the distribution grid make it very challenging to deploy urban smart metering communication networks. Sensus has a unique capability and expertise to ensure that the technology can optimise the asset life of meters and infrastructure across varied terrain without compromising the data or the analytics platforms.

The Sensus FlexNet communication networks are designed for high service level agreements, typically greater than 99 per cent connectivity even to end-points located in difficult-to-reach locations. FlexNet networks regularly achieve over 99 per cent performance at ranges of up to 5 km in urban areas and 20 km in rural areas.

What are Sensus’ key technology offerings for the Indian market?

India is at the leading edge of smart city roll-outs. Electricity, gas and water networks are part of society’s essential infrastructure. Their operation and availability are critical and most tested at times of natural disasters, civil disturbances or terrorist activity. As technology enables the “digitisation” of these networks for improved management and control, the communication networks that perform these functions become critical to the operation of these essential services.

We, therefore, believe that in India, the communication networks used by utilities for smart metering need to be dedicated, secure and reliable, where performance levels of more than 99 per cent are standard. In the 21st century, national catastrophes are all too common, so resilient control and information systems are more critical than ever.

Sensus aims to bring forth its best practices and cutting edge technology, better governance, quality infrastructure and uninterrupted utility services. India is at the leading edge of a total electrification programme. Sensus can help India with the implementation of next-generation technology to future-proof investment.

What are the company’s major focus areas going forward?

Our major focus is to educate utilities on the critical need for a licensed and fully dedicated smart grid communications network designed specifically for utilities, in order for their smart grid projects to be successful. As more companies claim to be able to supply the utility industry with critical IoT communications networks, it is essential that utilities can cut through the marketing hype when choosing a provider. Smart grids represent an unprecedented opportunity to move the energy industry into a new era of efficiency and sustainability that promises to contribute to the environmental and economic health of the world. Three crucial goals need to be met in order for a successful smart grid project to be achieved: reliability, security and efficiency. These can only be guaranteed with a communications platform operating in a licensed radio spectrum.

What are the promising technology developments in this space? What are the benefits envisaged?

Rapid advances in technology are transforming the world as we know it, and offering new solutions to old problems. One major goal for India is protecting the environment and natural resources while creating a stable economy for the future. The continued rise of big data offers the solutions to achieve these goals.

Data can provide governments, cities and countries with intelligence that will enable them to understand and modify their own energy and water usage and create truly smart cities. In time, this data could guide communities to meet environmental goals – but converting this potential into success rests on the data being accurate and harnessed effectively.

A dedicated, secure, reliable and resilient utility-grade communications network is the essential foundation upon which an intelligent, critical national infrastructure should be built. As data collection and analysis become a core component in the planning process, data could act as the catalyst for progress today – but only if it is leveraged effectively.