October 2020

With an impressive track record of expanding access to electricity, India has been an inspiring example for many countries around the world. That said, a new survey by NITI Aayog shows that only 55 per cent of customers are satisfied with the quality of their electricity supply.

Discoms in India have to improve the power quality in the country as per the joint study by Smart Power India, NITI Aayog and the Rockefeller Foundation, conducted across 10 states, with a sample size of over 25,000 respondents from different consumer categories (such as households, agriculture, commercial enterprises) and institutions across 25 distribution utilities. The report determined power quality by the number of voltage fluctuations. Overall, 63 per cent of customers reported more than one voltage fluctuation in a week, and 10 per cent reported more than 10 voltage fluctuations per day in one week. Urban customers (74 per cent) were comparatively more satisfied with the reliability of power than their rural counterparts (60 per cent).

The government is cognisant of these challenges, and has been tackling them on multiple dimensions. For the first time, the government has prepared draft rules providing rights to electricity consumers. Some of the key aspects of the new rules are specifying time limits for distribution companies to provide new electricity connections and respond to grievances, including common ones such as delayed and accumulated bills and faulty meters. The rules entitle consumers to rebates in power bills that are not served in time and other compensation from discoms that fail to address grievances in a timely fashion. There are also stringent provisions regarding timelines for new connections, mandatory use of smart/prepaid meters, and automatic compensation to customers for non-achievement of mandated supply quality.

Apart from these rules, introducing smart metering is the other way that the issue of power quality is being tackled. The world’s largest electricity smart metering programme is under way in India, with the aim of replacing 250 million conventional meters. As per estimates, complete installation of smart meters will directly mitigate about 10-12 per cent of AT&C  losses, amounting to Rs 11,000 billion in revenues to discoms in the next 10 years.

Then, there are other reforms currently under way, such as transfer of subsidies directly into customers’ accounts through DBT, two-part pricing of tariffs and rights to consumers for 24×7 power supply, being addressed through the draft tariff policy. Steps are also being taken to bring in private players by opening up the power distribution segment.

In sum, the sector is struggling with a number of issues, with power quality being one of them. Replicating India’s electrification success story through new ideas will require some quick and bold actions.

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