A smart grid uses advanced automation, control, IT and OT systems for real-time monitoring and control of power flows from sources of generation to sources of consumption. Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) or smart metering forms the core of smart grid architecture. It comprises smart meters, data concentrator units, a meter data management system, a head-end system, etc. In essence, it facilitates bidirectional communication between the meter and the systems at the utility control centre. In the past few years, smart meters have gained momentum on the back of government initiatives, particularly the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY), which makes it mandatory to deploy smart meters for consumers using more than 200 units of electricity a month.
Drivers for adoption
Utilities are now increasingly using AMI for varied applications such as load balancing, energy audit, improvement in billing efficiency, etc. Since the implementation of AMI facilitates remote meter reading, it provides greater convenience at a reduced cost in comparison to a traditional meter. In addition, the remote monitoring feature is useful for detecting meter tampering. Through real-time visibility, it provides alerts to a utility in case of unusually heavy load on the grid, meter bypassing and unaccounted-for consumption. Thus, by curtailing power theft, smart meters can substantially reduce the aggregate technical and commercial losses of discoms. In addition, the technology can also significantly improve utility load forecasting and ability to procure the right volumes of power. Utilities can also implement time-of-use tariffs for different categories of customers and encourage load shifting with demand response programmes.
On the operational front too, AMI enables faster service restoration after faults. It also allows for remote reading of meter data, thereby eliminating chances of human error in the meter reading process. Besides, it also allows for the measurement of power quality data and asset optimisation. AMI data supports granular monitoring of power flow on the distribution network, helping utilities identify segments of over- and under-loading, which is important for system planning. Further, the identification of phase imbalances can significantly reduce the failure rate of distribution transformers (DTs). Therefore, AMI holds the potential to substantially improve the operational and financial performance of the distribution companies and deliver better customer satisfaction.
Experience so far
Currently, several pilot projects are being implemented by the Ministry of Power under the National Smart Grid Mission to test the viability and benefits of various technologies, including AMI.
Installation of smart meters is also one of the operational performance parameters of UDAY. As of March 2018, a total of 151,307 smart meters have been installed for consumers with consumption above 500 kWh against a target of 5.7 million meters. Meanwhile, only 175,814 smart meters in the 200-500 KWh consumption category have been installed so far, out of the targeted 1.8 million meters.
That said, private discoms are taking significant steps towards this. Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (TPDDL) will be installing 250,000 smart meters under the first phase of its AMI Project in North and Northwest Delhi by end-2018. BSES has also started installing smart meters for specific applications. Further, trials are being undertaken to implement a smart remote monitoring unit and feeder remote terminal unit-based DT monitoring system. CESC Limited is also implementing AMI based on RF mesh technology in Kota, its franchise area under Jaipur Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited. Another key initiative in this space is being undertaken by the state-owned Energy Efficiency Services Limited, which is aggregating the smart meter demand by various states and floating tenders for bulk procurement. EESL has already started deploying 5 million smart meters in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
Key challenges and the way forward
Given the fact that consumers cannot be charged for smart meters and state utilities are grappling with poor financial health, the typically high upfront costs of smart metering projects can be prohibitive for utilities with limited access to capital. Further, discoms in India tend to choose different technical specifications. As a result, the lack of standards/absence of interoperability in IoT devices hinders AMI roll-out. In order to overcome this issue, the Bureau of Indian Standards published the IS 16444 standards for smart metering in August 2015 and the IS 15959 standards Part 2 in February 2016. In August 2016, the Central Electricity Authority published the functional requirements for AMI and technical specifications for smart meters.
Other challenges pertaining to the lack of skilled manpower and a weak procurement framework also hold back the deployment of the technology in the country. Lastly, the benefits of smart metering can only be reaped when a smart meter reliably communicates the data with the control centre. In this context, connectivity plays a crucial role of proper transmission of data, in the absence of which the scalability of AMI might be restricted.
In the light of these challenges, strong government policy support, innovative financing models, and efficient communication technologies will play a crucial role in the increased adoption of smart metering technology.