The power distribution segment is plagued with issues of high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, as well as financial losses, which can be controlled to quite an extent by following adequate metering, billing and collection (MBC) strategies. Although the national average AT&C losses have declined from 23.5 per cent in 2016-17 to 21.83 per cent in 2019-20, they vary widely across states and are especially high in Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Likewise, financial losses have declined from Rs 338.94 billion to Rs 328.98 billion during the same period, but profitability evades most discoms.
Proper energy accounting with robust MBC practices can play a key role in ensuring discoms’ operational and financial sustainability. Currently, the billing efficiency at the national level stands at 83 per cent. In terms of metering progress, nearly 6 per cent of consumers are unmetered in the domestic segment, less than 1 per cent in the industrial segment, and 61 per cent in the agricultural segment. Meanwhile, 100 per cent feeder metering has been achieved in rural and urban areas. Of late, the government is focusing on the installation of smart prepaid meters in order to improve billing and collection efficiency by reducing human intervention and pilferage.
The recently launched Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS) can help discoms realise their smart metering goals through grants from the central government. In an important development, the Ministry of Power (MoP) has recently mandated discoms to undertake energy accounting on a quarterly and annual basis under the provisions of the Energy Conservation Act, 2001. Such reports will provide detailed information about electricity consumption by different categories of consumers, and the transmission and distribution losses in various areas. They will help identify areas of high losses and theft, and enable corrective action such as infrastructure upgradation and demand-side management efforts.
Power Line takes a look at the progress of various metering initiatives of the central government…
Government initiatives in metering
Some of the major government programmes for metering are the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), launched in 2014; the Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS), launched in 2014; the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya), launched in 2017; and the National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM), launched in 2015. Under these schemes, funds have been provided to states/discoms as per their requirements, including for meters. The discoms have reportedly installed 52.75 million meters as of June 2021 under the schemes.
IPDS: The IPDS, notified by the MoP on December 3, 2014, is aimed at providing 24×7 power supply in urban areas, and lays considerable focus on distribution transformer (DT)/feeder/consumer metering in those areas. According to the latest data from the IPDS portal, for smart metering, the total approved project cost and project management agency cost is around Rs 3.86 billion, and the total government grant approved is Rs 2.39 billion, of which Rs 381.7 million has been released. So far, 98 per cent of consumer meters sanctioned under the IPDS have been installed (7.74 million out of 7.9 million). The installation of DT meters is 96 per cent of the target (that is 100,347 installed out of target 104,007). Feeder metering stands at 94 per cent (4,045 installed out of 4,335), smart metering at 97 per cent (0.152 million installed out of 0.156 million) and prepaid metering at 77 per cent (0.09 million installed out of 0.12 million). Besides these, 231,036 smart meters for UDAY-participating states have been installed, out of a targeted 1.8 million.
DDUGJY: Launched in December 2014, the DDUGJY is targeted at electrification and distribution strengthening in the rural sector along with metering of DTs, feeders and consumers in rural areas. The scheme has an estimated outlay of Rs 430.33 billion, including budgetary support of Rs 334.53 billion. A total of 16.6 million consumer meters, 244,000 11 kV feeder meters and 306,000 DT meters have been sanctioned under the scheme. As of June 2021, 15.43 million consumer energy meters, 249,186 DT meters and 13,851 feeder meters at the 11 kV level have been installed.
NSGM: Advanced metering infrastructure is a key component of projects under the NSGM. Four smart grid projects have been sanctioned under this programme and are at various stages of development. These include the projects to be developed in Subdivision 5 of Chandigarh (under the Chandigarh Electricity Division [CED]); in the entire city of Chandigarh, excluding Subdivision 5 (under CED); in Ranchi city (under Jharkhand Bijli Vitran Nigam Limited); and in six towns under Jaipur Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited. So far, 83,163 smart meters have been installed out of the 0.72 million smart meters sanctioned. Of the total, 0.36 million smart meters (in the Chandigarh Subdivision 5 project, the Chandigarh complete city project and Rajasthan’s six towns integrated project) are expected to be installed by March 2022, while 0.36 million smart meters (in Jharkhand’s Ranchi city project) are expected to be installed by March 2024.
Smart Meter National Programme (SMNP): Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) is implementing the SMNP with a target to replace 250 million conventional meters with smart meters. The programme is being implemented by EESL through demand aggregation, bulk procurement and monetisation of savings. Recently, EESL and the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund formed a joint venture, IntelliSmart Infrastructure Private Limited, to implement, finance and operate the smart meter roll-out programme for discoms. As per the SMNP dashboard, accessed in November 2021, around 1.57 million smart meters have been installed under the scheme, and as a result, the average discom revenues have increased by 20.5 per cent, amounting to an increase of Rs 301 per month per meter. AT&C losses have decreased by 11-36 per cent on average. Billing efficiency has improved by 21 per cent, and total revenue has increased by Rs 2.64 billion per annum for about 1.1 million meters. Seeing the success of smart metering, several states such as Assam, Tripura, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Gujarat and Karnataka have shown interest in smart metering, and the contours are being worked out.
RDSS: The central government has recently approved the RDSS scheme with an outlay of Rs 3,037.58 billion and a gross budgetary support of Rs 976.31 billion from Government of India over a period of five years from financial year 2021-22 to financial year 2025-26. The scheme aims to reduce pan-India AT&C losses to 12-15 per cent, and the average cost of supply-average revenue realised gap to zero by 2024-25.
A key feature of the scheme is to enable consumer empowerment by way of prepaid smart metering, to be implemented in public-private partnership (PPP) mode. Overall, 250 million smart meters have been planned to be installed during the scheme period. Priority will be given to installing prepaid smart meters in mission mode in the first phase in all electricity divisions of 500 Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation cities with AT&C losses greater than 15 per cent, all union territories, MSMEs and all other industrial and commercial consumers, all government offices at the block level and above, and other areas with high losses. Approximately 100 million prepaid smart meters are proposed to be installed by December 2023 in the first phase. Meanwhile, agricultural connections will be covered through feeder meters, while system metering with communication features at the feeder and DT levels simultaneously, in PPP mode, has also been proposed to enable energy accounting, leading to better planning for loss reduction by discoms.
For prepaid smart metering, a grant of Rs 900 or 15 per cent of the cost per consumer meter, whichever is lower, has been worked out for the whole project, for all states other than special category states. For the latter (including Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and the union territories of Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, and Lakshadweep), the corresponding grant would be Rs 1,350 or 22.5 per cent of the cost per consumer, whichever is lower. Further, an additional incentive of 50 per cent of the aforementioned grants can also be availed of if the discoms install the targeted number of smart meters by December 2023.
Challenges and the way forward
Some issues in smart prepaid meter deployment include high meter costs and entry barriers due to varied meter standards and turnover/experience conditions in tenders. Further, upfront capex investment remains a challenge for utilities, and instances of dropped/ delayed tenders have reduced investor confidence. However, given the government’s focus on smart metering and the benefits realised through the existing installations, it is likely to pick up pace in the near future.