To increase its operational efficiency and ensure effective network planning, Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) is undertaking several digitalisation and grid modernisation initiatives. The discom is also focusing on enhancing its consumer service experience by implementing information technology (IT) solutions. At a recent workshop organised by Power Line on “Grid Modernisation in Maharashtra”, Sanjeev Kumar, chairman and managing director, MSEDCL, spoke about the key strategies and technologies being deployed by the discom to modernise the grid, and the issues and challenges being faced in their implementation. Excerpts…
Digitisation and modernisation of the grid have become buzzwords. Digitalisation is simply the integration of advanced IT solutions with business operations and planning. This has gained momentum as IT has improved by leaps and bound in terms of computing power and is becoming competitive day by day. With the advancement in communications technology, digitalisation has become more relevant. With communications technologies, physical distance is no longer a barrier. Measuring a performance parameter correctly and communicating it in a timely manner allows utilities to take decisions that are based on accurate data.
Further, digitalisation helps in improving the efficiency of the money spent by the discom. There are certain overbuilt capacities in the system. Digitalisation provides tools that help in managing these spare capacities. Maintaining spare capacity posses an additional cost to the company, which ultimately gets transferred to the consumer. Further, digitalisation helps in optimising network design, network layout, issuance of new connections, etc. It also helps in theft reduction. Through digitalisation, thefts can be pinpointed accurately, thereby making the discom’s anti-theft drives more outcome-oriented.
Digitalisation should not remain confined to the digitisation/modernisation of the network, but should extend to other associated services as well. The implementation of enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions has significantly helped MSEDCL in managing its inventory. In 2015-16, MSEDCL’s closing inventory was around Rs 26 billion, which was reduced to Rs 6.5 billion in 2016-17. Although MSEDCL’s stores are spread out across Maharashtra, better measurement and control, and communication feedback significantly reduced the inventory.
Besides, digitalisation helps in asset management, preventive maintenance and monitoring of asset health. It also provides an opportunity to the discom to go beyond just electricity supply. It provides significant information about the consumer to the discom, which could be used to provide other services.
Business process re-engineering
There is a need for undertaking business process re-engineering through digitalisation. Besides IT implementation, business process re-engineering requires a change in mindset. Digitalisation should not remain confined to putting sensors and enhancing grid capabilities. Process re-engineering will really give more value to the consumer and to the company.
MSEDCL has decided to undertake process re-engineering by using IT in a big way. This will not only increase consumer convenience, but also help in controlling discom expenditure. For example, the new connection form at MSEDCL is only a one-page form with five columns as compared to a physical form of three to four pages, which requires more people for processing and entails an additional cost for the discom. Besides, MSEDCL provides consumers the facility to apply for a change in load through an SMS and a change in the name of the connection holder by simply uploading the relevant documents on its web portal. The discom also allows people to file complaints on Twitter.
MSEDCL is also working towards reducing human-to-human contact to almost zero. MSEDCL aims to communicate with its consumers through the implementation of a host of digital initiatives. The discom has collected the mobile numbers of almost 18 million consumers, against the total 24 million, over the past one and a half years. The discom is providing several services including the application for a new service connection, bill payment and complaint resolution through SMS mode. Further, the details of the meter reading taken by the discom personnel are communicated to the consumers through an SMS with the date and time of the meter reading within 10 minutes to half an hour of taking the reading, depending upon the network. If the consumers have any complaints, they can find out that meter reader in their neighbourhood and sort out the issue. If the problem persists, they can upload their own meter readings through a mobile app.
Apart from this, the electricity bill is sent to the consumers through an SMS along with a link for bill payment. Bill reminders and information about anticipated power disruption and power restoration are also sent to them through an SMS. Going forward, the discom aims to collect the mobile numbers of all 24 million consumers. The consumers will be provided all information so as to keep them updated about the services through telephone/SMS. Later, the discom will graduate to undertaking demand side management using only mobile phones.
Digitalisation should also involve enhancing discom efficiency in managing its employees. MSEDCL provides all human resource services to the employees through mobile application and employee portal.
Some of the key requirements for digitalisation are an appropriate meter and a robust communication network. Right now, smart meters are costly and the communication is not perfect. It is difficult to justify smart meter economics if almost 60-70 per cent consumers are paying only Rs 200-300 per month. Radio frequency meters along with a data concentrator unit will probably give almost 80 per cent of the capability of a smart meter. MSEDCL is setting up theses meters in Navi Mumbai and three other zones, covering almost 2 million consumers in the next six months.
In the distribution transformer (DT) metering segment, MSEDCL has installed DT meters in 120 towns under the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme. However, there are issues regarding the willingness of the field staff to keep the meters working. In addition, there are a number of bottlenecks on the communication front. The discom had a bad experience with the mobile company as the communication network was poor.
Meanwhile, with regard to feeders metering, almost 20,000 feeders are being monitored and these are providing data to the discoms. Although there were certain problems earlier, the discom has been receiving adequate feeder data for the past six months. This data has been put up by the discom in the public domain.
MSEDCL is also undertaking geographical information system mapping of all assets including substations and wires, which is likely to be completed soon. This information will be provided to the linemen on their handheld device. It will allow them to identify faults in their area of operation.
One of the threats that comes with digitalisation pertains to cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is a big challenge and it is still not clearly understood by many people. Apart from this, ensuring privacy of consumer data is extremely important. Consumer data needs to be protected not only from an economic point of view, but also from a security point of view. A household’s electricity consumption pattern can be used to determine how many people are living in the house at a particular point of time. If this data becomes publicly available, it can pose a serious security risk to the consumers. Besides this, re-skilling of the workforce is required to meet the emerging IT needs.
In sum, the digitalisation of operations provides a huge opportunity to utilities to enhance their operational efficiency and undertake network planning. Therefore, MSEDCL has decided to implement digitalisation and modernisation initiatives with full vigour.