Pilot Success

AVVNL demonstrates smart grid capabilities in Ajmer

An important development in India’s smart grid journey has been the launch of pilot projects by the government to test and demonstrate the benefits of various smart grid functionalities. One such project is being implemented by Rajasthan state discom Ajmer Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited (AVVNL) to demonstrate the benefits of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) in automatic energy audit and loss reduction analytics, including energy theft monitoring and tamper alerts. The project, covering about 1,000 consumers, was initiated in January 2016 and concluded in March 2017, becoming the first successful smart grid pilot.

A look at the Ajmer pilot project, its unique features and its outcome…

Project overview

The US-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy – Deployment [PACE-D] Technical Assistance [TA] Program, which is supporting India’s National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM), helped design and implement the Ajmer pilot project. AVVNL decided to undertake the project in consultation with the Ministry of Power. AVVNL’s high distribution losses and the fact that it was a part of the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme made Ajmer one of the ideal geographical locations for demonstrating smart grid functionalities.

Over a period of 14 months, the project was able to demonstrate the viability of smart grid projects for utilities, and improve the operational efficiency and financial performance of the utility through smart systems. The pilot project was undertaken in four key phases – planning, implementation, operations and closure.

Phase 1 (January-March 2016): Under the planning phase, the discom designed the business model and selected two vendors, Radius Synergies International Private Limited (RSIPL) and JnJ Powercom Systems Limited, to demonstrate their solutions for 500 consumers each on the selected feeders. The RSIPL solution was based on machine-to-machine communication, along with proprietary adaptors installed on the common meter reading instrument port of the existing meters. The solution provided by JnJ involved the setting up of AMI including smart meters, which were installed in electrical series with the existing meters. It was decided that the project would be implemented on an innovative “pay-for-service” or rental model, under which implementation was treated as a service rather than a one-time capital expenditure.

Phase 2 (April-September 2016): The installation phase started in April 2016. Overall, the installation, testing and commissioning of all equipment, including the development of a customised dashboard, took six months. The key activities undertaken during this phase included equipment testing, arrangements for easy and fast installation to minimise consumer agitation, customer engagement initiatives like door-to-door awareness campaigns, field surveys to assess consumer readiness for smart meter installation, consumer mapping exercise, development of a mobile application to ensure active participation from the government, and lastly, creation of a customised web-based dashboard for real-time data reporting.

Phase 3 (October 2016-March 2017): During the project operations phase, baseline losses were recalculated based on the smart meter/adapter data to provide accurate loss figures. In addition, monthly smart meter analytic reports were prepared to provide insights to the utility to reduce losses and improve consumer service. Further, the utility officials were trained on various technical and operational aspects of the pilot project.

Phase 4 (March 2017): The project closure involved a cost-benefit analysis of the project and preparation of a plan for scaling up of the AVVNL smart grid pilot project. Based on smart solution capabilities and cost estimates from vendors, the cost per node was estimated in the range of Rs 6,000-Rs 7,000. The total project capital expenditure for smart system infrastructure was estimated at Rs 6.69 million with the average cost per node of about Rs 6,500.

Features and key benefits

The project recorded total annual savings of Rs 1.3 million against the total capital expenditure cost of Rs 6.7 million, with a payback period of five to six years. However, considering the small scale of the pilot project, the costs incurred were relatively higher. The remaining capex of approximately Rs 4.1 million, excluding investment undertaken by USAID, if paid back as per the pay-for-rental model in equal monthly instalments over the next four years, would entail a monthly payment of Rs 85,295, that is, Rs 83 per consumer with a corresponding benefit of Rs 108 per month per consumer.

Under the project, the aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses reduced from 20 per cent to 13.5 per cent. The project helped identify 11 cases of uncollected dues over six months, improving collection efficiency by 1.2 per cent. The automation of meter reading, smart metering and monthly billing reduced the bill generation cycle from 14 days to 5 days, and eliminated meter reading and punching costs. The pilot project enabled  condition-based asset maintenance, thus reducing the failure rate of meters by 50 per cent and the failure rate of transformers by 30 per cent. The customer satisfaction level has improved with accurate billing, real-time consumption information, outage notifications on the mobile app, and reduction in outage time by 20 per cent and  time spent on handling consumer queries by 80 per cent.

AVVNL also reported an 11 per cent increase in energy sales in the project area, a 2.5 per cent reduction in transmission and distribution losses from 14.74 per cent to 12.18 per cent, and 100 per cent reading accuracy. There was no human interference in energy consumption capturing. Further, the failure/burning rate of transformers was reduced to zero. Going forward, the project will provide capabilities for real-time energy audit, load balancing at the distribution transformer, and monitoring of consumer sanctioned load demand violation.

The way forward

The objective of the pilot was to demonstrate the benefits of selected functionalities to AVVNL by implementing a proof of concept on a single selected feeder and suggest strategies for a larger roll-out. Following the successful completion of the pilot, a broad conceptual framework for scale-up has been prepared. The envisaged project would provide all benefits delivered under the pilot project such as reduced AT&C losses and metering and billing improvement, while delivering additional benefits such as peak load reduction, optimised asset management, and improved service and reliability.

Based on a case study prepared under the US-India PACE-D TA Program

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