Digital Transformation: Smart metering programme gains traction across the country

Smart meters are becoming increasingly prominent in the power distribution segment, owing to their ability to improve the operational and fi­nancial performance of the utilities. As of February 2023, the total number of smart meter installations in the country has crossed 5.4 million. Government ­sc­hemes and programmes, especially the Ministry of Power’s (MoP) Revamped Dis­­tribution Sector Scheme (RDSS), are giving a huge impetus to the deployme­nt of smart metres in the country. These programmes provide power departme­n­ts and discoms greater funding access for prepaid smart metering, distribution infrastructure upgrades, and system-wide metering for modernisation and loss reduction.

Moreover, as per Intelllismart’s recent pre­sentation at a Power Line conference, the transformation of meters through digitalisation can reduce discom losses and generate savings of up to Rs 9 trillion over 10 years. It can also help generate el­ectricity consumption data and cap­ture household energy usage patter­ns, which could enable discoms to carry out effective demand-side management, prevent outages and optimise distribution. With the help of predictive an­a­lysis, smart meters can enable dema­nd-based energy supply and reduce load demand, which in turn will address the variability issue of renewable integration in the grid, and prevent grid disruption. Besid­es, with smart energy infrastructure, utility providers can effectively manage distributed renewable power sources scattered across the grid. Smart meters will enable consumers to monitor and control energy usage, and accor­dingly chan­ge their energy consumption behaviour. The simplification of the bill payment mechanism through the dep­loyment of smart meter mobile apps will significantly improve consumer habits and regularise the bill payment process. In addition, smart meters will enable con­su­mers to turn into prosumers by supporting peer-to-peer solar energy trading.

Progress so far

As of February 10, 2023, around 103.94 million smart meters have been sanctioned across the country and 5.46 million have been installed. Additionally, da­ta from the National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM) indicates that around 98.49 million smart meters are yet to be installed. In 2021-22, a total of 4,114,479 smart me­ters were installed in the country – an increase of 73.68 per cent over the installations in the preceding year. State-wise, Bihar has the highest number of installed smart meters (1,299,448) followed by Ut­tar Pradesh (1,178,061), Haryana (636,060) and Rajasthan (569,354).

Scheme-wise, over 810,257 smart meters have been installed under the Integrated Power Development Scheme, while 156,677 have been installed under NSGM. In addition, 162,178 smart mete­rs have been installed under the Prime Minister’s Development Package, and 38,400 under the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana. Among agencies, En­ergy Efficiency Services Limited has ins­talled 3,310,863 smart meters, REC Pow­er Development and Consultancy Li­mit­ed has installed 186,392, and PFC Co­nsulting Limited has installed 151,015. Various other power utilities have cumulatively installed 1,808,283 sma­rt meters.

Smart metering initiatives under RDSS

Launched in 2022, the MoP’s flagship RDSS initiative aims to improve the operational efficiency and financial sustainability of distribution companies. With an outlay of Rs 3,037.58 billion for a period of five years (2021-22 to 2025-26), the scheme aims to provide financial assistance to discoms for the modernisation and strengthening of distribution infrastructure, and improvements in re­liability and quality of supply to end co­n­sumers. The main objectives of RDSS are to reduce aggregate technical and commercial losses to 12-15 per cent and reduce the average cost of supply-average revenue realised gap to zero by fin­ancial year 2024-25; and improve the qu­ality, reliability and affordability of po­wer supply to consumers through a financially sustainable and operationally efficient distribution sector.

The RDSS is divided into two main parts: Part A, which provides financial support for prepaid smart metering as well as system metering and distribution in­fra­str­ucture upgrades; and Part B, which focu­ses on training, capacity building, and other enabling and supporting activities. Prepaid smart metering is one of the key interventions envisaged under RDSS, with an estimated outlay of aro­u­nd Rs 1,500 billion and a gross budgetary support of Rs 230 billion. A total of 250 million smart meters are targeted to be installed under the scheme during the period 2021-22 to 2025-26. In addition to prepaid smart metering for consumers, the scheme envisages system metering at the feeder and distribution transformer levels with communication features, al­ong with the deployment of associated advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) under the TOTEX mode. This will make it easier for discoms to measure energy flow automatically at all levels, and automate energy accounting and au­diting. In addition, RDSS promotes the uptake of advanced information and communication technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine lear­ning to analyse the data generated thro­ugh smart meters and information technology/operational technology devices. This will enable the discoms to take in­for­med decisions on power theft as well as formulate strategies for loss reduction, demand forecasting and asset management. So far, 204,623,182 prepaid smart meters, 5,412,008 distribution transformer mete­rs and 198,826 feeder meters have been sanctioned across 28 states/46 discoms under RDSS, at a total sanctioned cost of around Rs 1.35 trillion.

Issues and challenges

As the smart metering programme gains traction across the nation, there is an ur­gent need to safeguard the metering sy­s­tem from vulnerabilities and the possibility of cyberattacks. There is a need to un­derstand the types of threats that po­se a risk and select security devices, to­ols and platforms that can monitor, de­­tect and respond to these threats. For instan­ce, keeping security at the forefront, a robust system architecture nee­ds to be designed with vigorous security measur­es for data validation, privacy and encry­ption, acc­ess control, and er­ror checking. In order to resolve connec­ti­vity issues, the implementation of hy­brid models such as GPRS, radio frequency and narrowband internet of things is needed. Additionally, to overcome the challenges related to sc­alability and interoperability, functional req­uire­ments will have to be set out to minimum levels. There is a ne­ed to develop smart meter systems on op­en standards for smooth and easy int­eroper­abi­lity of headend systems ac­ro­ss multiple meter manufacturers.

Future outlook

As per Intelllismart’s presentation at a recent Power Line conference, the installation of smart meters can result in significant socio-economic transformation, save about Rs 10 trillion in losses for utilities, revitalise the industry and the Make in India programme in the manufacturing segment, trigger large capex cycles (requiring a debt disbursal of about Rs 2.5 trillion) and generate massive am­ounts of data for AI/ML applications. Sm­­art metering, once implemented at scale, can create a plethora of sustainable benefits, generating long-term val­ue for consumers and ultimately contributing to socio-economic developme­nt through consumer empowerment. For instance, usage data based on real-time tariffs and AMI consumer mobile apps can enable the alignment of consumption with power purchase costs on a real-time basis.

To conclude, backed by government su­pport, smart metering in the country is expected to grow in a big way, going forward. Recently, at a review planning and monitoring meeting with states and state power utilities, the central government urged states to increase prepaid sm­art metering installations. The states have also been advised to expedite the implementation of smart meters and to ensure that no penalty is levied on any consumer for higher loads discovered after the installation of prepaid smart me­ters and billing.