An accurate and prompt energy accounting system for measuring the inflow and outflow of energy at various voltage levels is the key to efficient revenue management. In this regard, discoms have launched various projects for smart meter deployment, implementation of IT applications in metering, billing and collection activities, MIS-based reporting, prevention of meter thefts, etc. A look at metering best practices and experiences of leading state utilities…
BESCOM: Deploying prepaid meters
A key initiative being taken by Karnataka state discom BESCOM is the deployment of prepaid meters. In the Tumakuru smart city, about 17,000 smart meters are being deployed enabled with advanced metering technologies. The cost of these meters per node is estimated to be Rs 9,000-Rs 10,000 per node with the total budget for this implementation being around Rs 175 million. The system bidders have to provide comprehensive solutions for not just the installation of meters, but also for meter reading and integration with billing software. A Bluetooth facility is also being provided in these meters. BESCOM is planning to go ahead with the implementation of smart meters based on the experience of the project in Tumakuru and other areas. It is also focusing on in-house capacity building in the area of smart metering technologies.
The discom has a consumer base of around 9 million with about 500,000 consumers being added every year. To cater to the growing number of consumers, the utility has launched the “retail outlets for meters” concept. As part of this, consumers can directly purchase meters from retail outlets operated by manufacturers, which are selected through a bidding process. The manufacturers are required to provide a five-year guarantee, covering the replacement of meters in case of a failure. This concept has reduced the need for the discom to maintain unnecessary stores. So far, BESCOM has achieved 100 per cent billing and collection efficiency (as envisaged under policy directives), and reduced transmission and distribution losses to around 12 per cent and aggregate technical and commercial losses to 14 per cent. With remote metering and AMI, the losses are proposed to be brought down further as it will help accurately assess the losses and reduce the billing cycle.
However, the integration of new meters with the existing billing system is a key bottleneck in smart meter deployment. The prepaid meters being installed by BESCOM are stand-alone systems, and the utility faces difficulties in obtaining readings from a remote location. Hence, meter readings are being taken manually. The integration of meter data with billing software has also not been done yet since the billing software is not designed for prepaid systems.
MPPKVVCL: AMI experience
Madhya Pradesh Paschim Kshetra Vidyut Vitaran Company Limited (MPPKVVCL) deployed automatic meter reading (AMR)-based meters in Indore under the R-APDRP programme, followed by meter data acquisition and management systems, and SCADA systems (in two cities) before the utility took up the implementation of smart meters.
Under the ongoing smart metering project, the utility plans to install around 120,000 smart meters along with communication infrastructure of RF canopy, complying with IS 16444, in Indore city, at a cost of Rs 964 billion. The project is being implemented using a mix of RF and GPRS technologies. By July 2019, around 75,000 meters were installed in select 11 kV feeders.
Some of the benefits of the project have been generation of 100 per cent correct bills without any human intervention. The seamless integration of files with the R-APDRP billing system has reduced bill-related complaints and improved consumer satisfaction. There is now 99 per cent availability of meter data (IP, LS and daily billing data).
The utility has also started giving incentives to consumers having a power factor of more than 0.85 and also penalising those having power factor less than 0.8. MPPKVVCL has also deployed a mobile app, on which consumers can check their consumption during the day, week, month, and year and compare it. This has given better control to consumers over their electricity consumption, costs and bills. Consumers also get information on planned outages through a notification on the app.
There has also been a substantial increase in the billing efficiency of 11 kV feeders with smart meters. Till July 2019, about 9 MUs has been sold through these feeders. In case of meter tampering, real-time alerts are provided, helping in theft detection. Any tampering activity is reflected at the control centre and vigilance is started immediately. The same meter can be used in both post-paid and prepaid mode. The programming can be done from the control centre. The net metering feature is also incorporated in the smart meters to cater to prosumers.
AVVNL: New approach to metering, billing and collection
Ajmer Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited (AVVNL) had been facing many challenges in managing its distribution system. Owing to poor billing and collection efficiency, it could not invest further in infrastructure. To overcome the basic challenges in this segment, the utility implemented an outsourcing solution in Bhilwara district.
One of the challenges was human intervention in meter reading and payment collection leading to errors. The management of continuous network/consumer growth as well as the old network was another challenge. In terms of revenue management, the challenges were outstanding recovery, incorrect billing and limited payment options, and inaccurate energy accounting. Customer service issues included long queues at collection centres, non-timely response to power supply and billing issues and delayed response to customer grievances.
Therefore, AVVNL decided to implement an outsourcing model, an “service level agreement (SLA)-based service model to cover metering, billing, collection, and customer grievances for a period of 10 years”. The SLA covers hassle-free connection services, addresses “no power” related complaints, provides a 24×7 call centre system to handle consumer grievances, ensures correct and timely delivery of bills, etc.
One of the key benefits of this model has been improved operational efficiency. The discom is now releasing 350-400 new connections per month with an average turnaround time (TAT) of three days without augmentation requirement and average TAT of 25 days with augmentation requirement. This has been achieved with a consumer-friendly connection process.
Network improvement has also been achieved by studying consumer meter data and analysing distribution transformer (DT) loading conditions and taking corrective actions such as load balancing and phase balancing of affected DTs after getting daily DT meter data through AMR. Feeders and DT meters have been equipped with communication devices. Information of outage is directly sent from the meter to the field staff for corrective action. It has also helped reduce power interruption time. Meter data analysis has helped in the reduction of losses and failure of transformers.
There has also been a tremendous improvement in resolving “no current” power complaints (NPCs). Almost 95 per cent of NPCs were addressed within 45 minutes and the balance within two hours. This was achieved by addressing NPC complaints 24×7 (even in odd night hours). With the new installation methodology, NPCs reduced by 30 per cent. Further, the duration of cash collection counters has been increased and also more online payment options have been given to customers. As a result, online payments are increasing and there is considerable reduction in cash and cheque handling. Also, high-value consumer meter data is captured through AMR and a monthly analysis based on load patterns and other factors is conducted. For theft control, loss-prone areas have been identified and corrective actions have been taken. In addition, the utility has removed overhead LT lines, issued connections from junction boxes, conducted surveys for high-loss feeders and issued electricity connections.
A 24×7 call centre system has been established, equipped with consumer dashboard, location of field staff, and a power outage map to efficiently handle consumer grievances. Further, the installation of advanced meters outside consumer premises has reduced average and provisional billing. Electronic readings through remote meter reading and optical port are taken to reduce human intervention. The bill format has been redesigned to help consumers to get important information upfront. AVVNL has benefited from advance revenue collection by changing the billing cycle from bimonthly to monthly through AMR processes. Billing efficiency has improved owing to minimum provisional billing and incorrect billing.
Overall, AVVNL has experienced no employee unrest as the technical staff was engaged in areas where there was shortage of staff. As the model was based on build-own-operate-transfer framework, no upfront capital expenditure was required. Operational expenses were reduced, which led to improved efficiency. Also, the use of IT infrastructure helped in reliable billing and timely collection. Consumer service experience improved due to efficient service delivery, a 24×7 consumer service centre for handling consumer complaints, and proactive intimation to consumers for bills/payment by SMS/email. Also, accurate billing and improved collection options helped win the trust of consumers.