“Discoms must be more consumer-oriented”

Views of UGVCL’s P. Swaroop

  UGVCL is a profit-making discom under the aegis of GUVNL. With transmission and distribution (T&D) losses (non-agricultural sector) of only 6.99 per cent, amongst the lowest in all the discoms of Gujarat, our discom has consistently been awarded an A+ rating by the Ministry of Power (MoP).

We have an annual profit of around Rs 900 million. The billing efficiency was 100 per cent in 2017-18. The debit arrears are also amongst the least of the Gujarat discoms, at around 5.7 per cent only (as of March 2018).

Our discom has different kinds of consumers; we handle a major agricultural area that covers Sabarkantha district and Banaskantha. Apart from that, we  also cater to the periphery of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar and certain high-profile areas where customers have high  expectations. Hence, power outages of even a few minutes can be a huge issue.

Key Initiatives

Consumer expectations of a power discom are essentially reliable power supply, accurate metering, accurate billing, easy payment gateways as well as timely connections.

UGVCL has been providing reliable power supply through the Jyotigram Yojana (JGY) since 2005. Under the scheme, the villages and agricultural feeders that were connected on common feeders were segregated. The primarily agricultural feeders were restricted to three-phase power supply only for 8-10 hours a day, to pump water for irrigation purposes. The rural feeders are now fed with three-phase power supply as good as the urban feeders, that is, for 24 hours.

We are also establishing an underground network in urban areas, and have begun underground cabling. We have successfully completed  underground cabling work at  BOL (situated at Sanad, near Ahmedabad), GIDC (Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation) area, and also initiated  various underground cabling projects in other GIDC areas of our jurisdiction for uninterrupted and reliable power supply to our valuable industrial consumers. There are a few urban pockets where underground cabling has been completed. We currently have an underground electrical infrastructure spanning 372.12 km. This has definitely helped reduce power interruptions; however, there are a few issues of cables being damaged during digging by other utilities. There are also right-of-way (RoW) issues involved with local authorities, apart from the fact that such cables entail higher capital costs. With underground cabling, however, there has been greater customer satisfaction. The maintenance costs have also reduced a lot, besides leading to the presence of a safer network compared to the overhead network. In the future, we will continue to try to move towards underground cabling as much as possible.

We are utilising aerial bunched cables for the low tension (LT) network to prevent theft as well as for safety purposes. We also have a customer care centre, which functions 24×7 at Mehsana and can be used for lodging complaints with a self-service interactive voice response (IVR) option. We also have an SMS facility and a consumer portal for bill payments, complaint booking and resolution, planned outage information, new connection application, viewing billing history, etc.

Smart grid project

The smart grid project is being implemented in the urban area of Naroda. Genus was awarded the order for the project for Rs 354 million. Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (Powergrid) is the consultant for the project. The project covers the installation of single-phase and three-phase meters, current transformer (CT)-operated DLMS (Device Language Message Specification) meters, integration with new systems, a net metering component for renewable integration and an outage management system for all consumers.

Another feature of the project is that it uses smart metering, which enables two-way communication and allows interaction on a live basis, besides also allowing to adjust or modify the power supply according to the demand.

One of the features of the project is the remote connect/disconnect facility, by which the power supply of houses can be cut without any human intervention. In the future, this feature can be used to cut the power directly from the control room of consumers not paying bills or using more power than required.

Almost 75 per cent of the project is completed. We have completed the installation of 20,000 smart meters out of the proposed 23,760 and the project will be fully functional by September 2018.  The data centre equipment has been installed and configured. The communication partners for the project are Airtel and Cyan Connod.

For the utility, the key benefit of this project is automatic meter reading for bill generation. It also allows for vigilance-related activities. Further, prepaid and net metering functionalities are possible. Real-time AT&C losses can also be calculated through smart metering.

For consumers, the benefit from the project will be that consumers can know their actual power consumption on a daily basis or even on a 15-minute basis, which will be displayed on a mobile application. With differential tariffs for peak and off-peak periods, the behavioural pattern of consumers can be changed too.

For instance, there could be a situation where consumers use fewer appliances during the peak demand period. With prepaid meters, the actual power utilised may even reduce, and with Gujarat being a commercially conscious state, there will be savings for individuals as well as discoms.

We need to strengthen the web portal and the mobile app, which need to be made more robust and user-friendly.

SCADA

We are implementing a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system in Ahmedabad, covering 10 subdivisions. The project has been approved by the MoP at a loan amount of Rs 338.2 million. The project entails an installation of remote terminal units (RTUs) in 19 substations and 631 feeder remote terminal units (FRTUs). So far, RTU installation has been completed in 19 substations and 361 FRTUs have been installed. However, there are some issues with communication; presently only 10 substations are communicating with our control centre.  By October this year, we will complete the installation of all 631 FRTUs.

Concerns and the way forward

A major constraint at the moment is the high pricing of smart meters, which are 10 to 12 times more than the regular meters. However, with the scaling up of demand, the cost will come down and this will completely change the functioning of discoms. In fact, in a few years, meter readers may become obsolete. For agricultural connections, prepaid meters can significantly reduce the number of defaulters. Further, in troublesome areas where collection is difficult, prepaid meters can be a huge advantage for consumers. Another concern is consumer apprehension of smart meters with reference to continuous monitoring and surveillance. Hence, more awareness is necessary.

Discoms must become more consumer-oriented. We should equip ourselves to meet consumer demands. As a public sector undertaking, making a profit is also very important; however, at the same time customers should be a priority.

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