Smart metering has been one of the key focus areas of the government towards reducing the aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses of discoms. It has received a major push through several policy initiatives including the Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS), the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) and the smart grid pilot projects. While some development has taken place, it has been limited and slow. In another move towards scaling up the adoption of smart meters, the Ministry of Power (MoP) announced its decision to make all meters smart-prepaid by 2022.
In an official statement released on December 24, 2018, the government has set a target to make all meters smart-prepaid over a period of three years starting April 1, 2019. The move was not completely unexpected. In a meeting with meter manufacturers in June 2018, the power minister had advised them to scale up the manufacturing of smart prepaid meters in anticipation of a huge demand, and bring down prices. At the same meeting, the minister advised the MoP officials to consider making smart prepaid meters mandatory after a particular date. The universal installation of smart and prepaid meters was also proposed as one of the amendments to the Tariff Policy, 2016, earlier in May 2018. While the proposed amendment did not specify any clear timelines, nor has it been finalised yet, it did suggest giving priority to areas with high losses.
Smart prepaid meters are expected to help discoms in improving not only their revenue collection but also meter data collection, and enable real-time monitoring of energy consumption. As per estimates by Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), an improvement of 10–15 per cent in billing efficiency would generate an additional revenue of Rs 50 billion to Rs 70 billion for discoms. At the same time, smart meters empower consumers to pay as per their requirements without the need to pay for the entire month at one time. According to R.K. Singh, union minister of state (independent charge) for power and new and renewable energy, “Smart meters will revolutionise the power sector through their vast cascade of benefits, including reduced AT&C better discom health, incentivisation of energy conservation and ease of bill payments.” Moreover, it will generate skilled employment for the youth.
Amongst the initiatives taken for accelerating the pace of smart meter adoption, UDAY has been the biggest scheme. It mandated the deployment of smart meters for all consumers with a consumption of more than 200 units per month. Overall, 35 million smart meters were targeted to be installed by 2019. So far, only 1.8 per cent of the targeted smart meters have been installed. About Rs 8,310 million has been approved for installing 4.1 million smart meters across 21 discoms under the IPDS. About 400,000 of these have been sanctioned and 48,000 have been installed.
Apart from UDAY and the IPDS, the government has set up the National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM), which is mandated to plan and monitor programmes related to smart grids. Currently, seven smart grid projects, including smart metering, are being implemented under the NSGM. Further, seven smart grid pilot projects are under implementation and four have been completed. These projects have been funded in part by the MoP and entail the installation of around 175,000 smart meters.
EESL is assisting in the implementation of smart metering through the Smart Meter National Programme (SMNP). Under this programme, EESL aims to replace 250 million conventional meters with smart meters. EESL has signed agreements with several discoms for the installation of smart meters. It is in the process of installing 4 million smart meters in Uttar Pradesh, 1 million in Haryana, 1.7 million in Andhra Pradesh and 1.8 million in Bihar. It has recently completed the installation of 50,000 smart meters for the New Delhi Municipal Council area in Delhi.
Apart from the initiatives under various government programmes, several discoms are undertaking independent deployments of smart meters. One of the most recent initiatives is the roll-out of 250,000 smart meters (200,000 single-phase meters and 50,000 three-phase meters) by Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited. Amongst public discoms, Madhya Pradesh Paschim Kshetra Vidyut Vitaran Company Limited and Jaipur Vidyut Vitaran Nigam Limited have awarded contracts for 75,000 and 280,000 smart meters respectively.
The way forward
Despite a number of projects under implementation, it would not be wrong to say that smart metering is still at a nascent stage in India. There is a long way to go in achieving large-scale smart metering. However, a number of challenges that had hindered the implementation of smart metering have been overcome, pointing towards smoother sailing ahead. Further, plans are under way to launch UDAY 2.0, of which smart metering is likely to be a key component.