Smart meters provide remarkable solutions to increase the operational efficiency of discoms. Due to a plethora of proven commercial benefits offered, discoms have been adopting smart meters increasingly and this has created a huge market potential for smart meters.
So far, discoms have been installing smart meters under various government schemes such as the Smart Metering National Programme (SMNP) that has an ambitious goal of replacing 250 million conventional meters with smart meters across India, the Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS), the National Smart Grid Mission and the Ministry of Power’s (MoP’s) smart grid pilots. In addition, various states including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, and Tripura undertook projects of their own. With electricity consumers experiencing a phenomenal change in terms of how they receive and pay their bills, owing to the introduction of an advanced smart metering technology, over 11,249,751 smart meters have been sanctioned across the country and 4,053,138 smart meters have been installed (as per NSGM dashboard accessed on March 24, 2022).
Scheme-wise, over 1,412,161 smart meters have been installed under IPDS, while 129,768 smart meters have been installed under NSGM. In addition to this, 39,167 smart meters have been installed under the Prime Minister’s Development Package (PMDP) and 38,400 under the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY). Among agencies, Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) has installed 2,427,984 smart meters and REC Power Development and Consultancy Limited (RECPDCL) has installed 62,543 smart meters. Further, power utilities have cumulatively installed 1,486,899 smart meters, and PFC Consulting Limited has installed 75,712 smart meters.
Major smart meter deployment schemes in India
For helping discoms in improving operational efficiencies and gaining more financial sustainability, the government approved RDSS in 2021 for strengthening the supply infrastructure of the distribution sector, based on the fulfilment of pre-qualifying criteria and achievement of basic minimum benchmarks.
With an outlay of Rs 3,037.58 billion over five years, the scheme aims to reduce aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses to 12-15 per cent pan-India. The outlay also includes an estimated government budgetary support of Rs 976.31 billion. With the help of this scheme, discoms and power departments will have increased access to funds for prepaid smart metering, distribution infrastructure works and system metering for modernisation as well as loss reduction. The scheme focuses on facilitating installation of prepaid smart meters for all consumers along with associated AMI, and communicable meters for DTs and feeders, among other things.
Implemented by EESL, SMNP aims at replacing 250 million conventional meters with smart meters in the country. Functioning under the MoP as a superior energy service provider, EESL’s business model requires no upfront investment by discoms and the agency will be bearing all the capital expenditure and operating expenses. With the aim of enabling consumers and industries to control and manage their energy needs through smart and energy-efficient solutions, EESL has signed agreements for smart meters with Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Haryana and the New Delhi Municipal Council. Meanwhile, for prepaid meters, the agency has signed agreements with Tripura and Uttar Pradesh. To further finance, operate and implement the smart meter roll-out programme, EESL entered into a joint venture with the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund and IntelliSmart Infrastructure Private Limited.
As per the SMNP dashboard accessed in March 2022, around 1.57 million smart meters have been installed so far. The average discom revenues have increased by 20.5 per cent, leading to an increase of Rs 301 per month per meter. Also, AT&C losses were reduced by 11-36 per cent, while billing efficiency increased by 21 per cent. Furthermore, the total revenue increased by Rs 2.64 billion per annum for about 1.1 million smart meters. It is also worth noting that prepaid meters in Bihar witnessed an increase in revenues by 140-150 per cent.
Remarkably, several states have come forward to enhance smart metering infrastructure in the country and implementation works have commenced in several states such as Haryana (for 246,951 smart meters), Uttar Pradesh (1,144,932 smart meters), Bihar (103,941 smart meters), Delhi (58,840 smart meters), Rajasthan (494 smart meters) and Andaman & Nicobar Islands (for 23,906 smart meters). The SMNP is under discussion before implementation in Arunachal Pradesh (182,699 smart meters), Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir (913,132 smart meters), West Bengal (2 million smart meters).
The IPDS notified by the MoP in 2014, aims to provide quality and reliable power supply for strengthening the power distribution network in urban areas. The scheme focused on reducing AT&C losses as well as establishing IT-enabled energy accounting to further improve collection efficiency. As per the latest information available from the IPDS portal, for smart metering, the approved project cost and project management agency cost are Rs 3.84 billion and Rs 19.2 million, respectively. The total government grant approved is Rs 2.37 billion, of which Rs 422.7 million has been released. Further, the MoP has approved smart metering projects under IPDS, based on improved performance parameters as per the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana.
Established in 2015, NSGM has been operational since January 2016, aiming to accelerate the smart meter deployment in the country. As of now, 129,768 smart meters have been installed out of the 723,433 sanctioned. In order to bring a uniformity of approach for the implementation of smart consumer metering solutions across the country by utilities, NSGM also focused on issuing standard bidding documents for the selection of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) service providers. As of now, four smart grid projects have been sanctioned under this programme. These projects are under various stages of development and are to be executed in the entire city of Chandigarh, excluding Subdivision-5 (under the Chandigarh Electricity Division [CED]), in Ranchi city (under Jharkhand Bijli Vitran Nigam Limited, in Subdivision-5 of Chandigarh (under CED), and in six towns under Jaipur Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited.
One of the key challenges facing the seamless deployment of smart meters deals with the aspect of smart meters being more than just mere hardware components. Smart metering requires an entire infrastructure to support functions spanning from billing to payment, since replacing conventional meters with smart meters is bound to have implications beyond addressal of metering and billing issues in the sector. To reap the benefits of improved detection of outages and losses in the system, better service quality and load management, it becomes crucial to closely monitor the implementation of various smart metering schemes and programmes. In addition to this, utilities will have to adopt communication systems that can be updated securely and remotely. In addition to the aforementioned issues, the integration of data from smart meters with the help of the meter data management system and collection software is another challenge, since the entire process needs seamless automation through cloud-based services for reaping maximum benefits. The lack of communication by some installed smart meters and excessive time taken for integrating AMI with the legacy billing software of discoms are some other issues that need to be addressed.
To conclude, smart meters are set to be the main interface between consumers and discoms all over the country and large-scale implementation can be achieved through extensive analysis and evaluation by regulators, focusing on learnings from various schemes and pilot projects. A lot needs to be done in terms of addressing issues related to transmission and distribution losses, power theft, metering efficiency and spreading awareness about smart meters.