The distribution segment is the weakest link in the power sector value chain and has been reeling under operational and financial distress. Distribution utilities have been facing challenges including high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses and poor billing and collection efficiency. With technological advancements, consumer meters have turned into storage facilities with an enormous quantum of useful information, which can enable utilities to significantly improve their operational efficiency. For instance, meter data management (MDM), a core component of the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), can help utilities overcome several challenges by unlocking and processing data using data analytics algorithms. These outcomes can be used for a variety of applications to bring down AT&C losses, enhance revenue and improve consumer engagement. The data processed through MDM can also be utilised for other applications such as outage management, peak load management, demand response and prepayment, identifying meter tampering and ensuring theft protection, among others. Further, meter data and analytics can assist in demand forecasting as well as energy trading.
Benefits of MDMS
Meter data management systems (MDMS) play a key role in interpreting meaningful trends in data. With the MDMS, meter reading can be improved, thereby reducing utilities’ equipment and labour costs. It also helps in the reduction of operating costs for several field-related services such as collection, connection/ disconnection, cut-ins, rereads, field tests and investigations. In addition, there would be a reduction in complaints, enquiries, cancellations, rebilling, etc. at call centres. A better outage management system can be put in place with the help of MDMS as it reduces outage/restoration and false despatch costs. Further, the installation of the MDMS can help in the recovery of unaccounted-for energy, leading to revenue protection. With the government mandating a shift to smart prepaid meters, MDMS will become a must-have application for smart meter planning and deployment.
With larger data volumes and increased frequency of data collection, data analytics lies at the core of MDMS. It is also useful for sending alerts regarding meter-based conditions such as usage pattern, events and system performance. Further, it interconnects the metering system with a broad range of enterprise applications. MDMS provides valid and complete data for improving customer service, operating the consumer portal and undertaking distribution planning and tariff analysis. It also manages commands from downstream.
Further, MDMS helps in real-time event management and notifies voltage anomalies, outage/restoration and tampering. Besides, data gathered from the system helps in undertaking historical/ predictive analysis. This helps in maintaining a secure, comprehensive control point of information to achieve business objectives. The availability of accurate information from MDMS helps meet user expectations and enhance consumer satisfaction. It also helps improve operations of a discom through improved asset management and quick response to power quality disruption.
The experience so far
Different utilities have different requirements from an MDM solution, depending on their objectives. The key requirements for some of the discoms are as follows:
Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (Tata Power-DDL): Tata Power-DDL’s key objectives for processing data via MDM were revenue protection, better consumer services and further improvement in billing efficiency. AMI also provided various value-added services, besides reducing the discom’s AT&C losses. Tata Power-DDL has used Siemens’ MDMS, EnergyIP, to read and process meter data and bring in intelligence from the control room to the substation level and even the distribution transformer level.
TP Central Odisha Distribution Limited (TPCODL): For TPCODL, another Tata Power company, obtaining readings from different parts of central Odisha has been a challenge, owing to the large geographical area. This is where the smart metering ecosystem, including AMI and MDM, will play a key role by improving billing and collection efficiency. Once billing requirements are met, other needs such as implementation of time-of-day (ToD) tariffs and outage management will be taken up.
Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL): APDCL has completed two AMI projects covering around 100,000 consumers, while other projects covering 300,000 consumers are under way. Currently, the utility is undertaking minor analyses using its MDM solution mainly for billing and identifying power factor, maximum demand and sanctioned load violations. The company has plans to use the MDMS for advanced functionalities such as load forecasting and demand response in the future.
North Bihar Power Distribution Company Limited (NBPDCL): NBPDCL’s MDMS is processing data of nearly 770,000 consumers. Daily load profiles of consumers are being recorded on the MDMS and consumers can see their consumption data on the Bihar Bijlee app to optimise their electricity usage. NBPDCL has installed a prepaid AMI solution, which has helped the discom realise past arrears from consumers, serve accurate and timely bills as well as disconnect defaulting consumers. The MDMS was customised to include the prepaid functionality and it was integrated into the system as per the utility’s requirements.
CESC: CESC has been managing metering requirements with its home-grown IT system. Its metering data is integrated with an outage management system and a customer relationship management system. The utility plans to scale up smart metering in the near future and MDM will become crucial in achieving functionalities such as critical peak pricing, demand-side management (DSM), ToD tariffs and load profiling.
BSES Rajdhani Power Limited (BRPL): BRPL has been downloading data from meters since 2006. With its smart metering project, the utility is looking at meeting the DSM objectives, demand curve management, network optimisation, consumer-safe electricity supply and outage management.
Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (Powergrid): Powergrid has undertaken an AMI pilot in Puducherry and has been providing consultancy services to utilities in this space, based on learnings from the pilot. At Puducherry, MDMS helped clean and manage data and subsequently, convert it into information that can be used by the utility.
Madhya Pradesh Poorv Kshetra Vidyut Vitaran Company Limited: Madhya Pradesh is one of the few states where it was decided to have a common MDMS with respect to all discoms. Having a common MDMS solves the issue of interoperability in smart meters. This allows utilities to go for multiple communication technologies for smart metering with a common MDMS.
Issues and challenges
The integration of MDMS with legacy systems and the utility’s existing IT infrastructure is one of the key challenges. Often, utilities deploy MDMS and head-end systems (HES) from different vendors, which poses integration issues. The absence of standard interfaces between HES and MDMS also poses an issue during implementation. The customisation of the MDMS to include the prepaid functionality is also challenging for utilities. Hence, reliable partners that have successfully integrated with different HESs and prepaid functionality modules would be key for successful implementation. Another challenge is choosing the right communication technology for AMI implementation. The communication backbone must be robust if smart meters have to feed data at regular intervals to the MDMS. Reskilling employees and bringing about a cultural change is another key challenge for utilities. With advanced technologies, it becomes essential for utilities to enhance the skills of its IT workforce. In addition, an awareness within the organisation as well as among customers is essential for the success of any MDMS implementation project.
The way forward
With the changing power sector landscape, several utilities are expected to scale up deployment of smart meters and MDMS. Moreover, the central government has set an ambitious target of installing 250 million smart meters by 2025 under the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme. The MDMS will play a crucial role in ensuring financial resilience of discoms through better billing efficiency, revenue protection and a reduction in non-technical losses. Further, utilities need to plan for the future as not only is generation becoming unpredictable due to renewables, but the load is also becoming variable due to distributed energy resources. Therefore, it will be crucial for discoms to manage the demand curve properly and understand consumer behaviour. The MDMS will be crucial in providing such insights to utilities. Additionally, insights from MDMS can help discoms utilise existing assets to their full potential and efficiency. Other use cases include outage management and reliability improvement.
Going forward, the metering landscape is expected to witness a paradigm shift and MDM is poised to become the focal point of the technological transformation of utilities.
With inputs from a recent Power Line conference and a virtual roundtable