Smart metering has shown unprecedented growth in the past few years. The technology has improved significantly and enhanced efficiency for power distribution companies. As per the National Smart Grid Mission dashboard, India’s smart meter installations stand at 7.05 million as of August 2023.
Drivers for AMI adoption
The deployment of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is enabling utilities to achieve two-way communication between utilities and consumers, which facilitates real-time monitoring and management of energy consumption and can help reduce losses in the distribution system. AMI has replaced analog meters and has the capability to transmit real-time data between consumers and utilities. Electricity meter readings, service connection and disconnection, tamper and theft detection, fault and outage identification, and voltage monitoring are some metering tasks that AMI automates through smart control and communication technologies.
AMI also enables remote connections and disconnections and on-demand, out-of-cycle meter readings. Smart meters can be programmed to handle complicated rate structures of various types, including time-based rates, incentive programmes and prepaid billing plans. This is important because the government plans to convert all meters to smart prepaid mode by 2025-26 under the Revamped Sector Distribution Scheme. Under this programme, the installation of prepaid meters will be prioritised in areas with high distribution losses, including over 500 cities with aggregate technical and commercial losses exceeding 15 per cent, union territories, industrial and commercial consumers and all government offices. According to recent data provided by the Ministry of Power to the Lok Sabha the sanctioned cost of smart meter works across states under the scheme stands at Rs 1,354.4 billion (as of August 2023).
AMI, when combined with cutting-edge customer-based technologies, also encourages customers to reduce peak demand and energy consumption. It is now an integral part of the system that has a crucial role in enhancing billing and revenue collection efficiency, and reducing losses.
AMI enables customer adoption of distributed energy sources by providing accurate information on on-site generation and storage usage, and on the amounts of excess generation delivered to local distribution grids through net metering mechanisms. Net metering and feed-in tariffs allow consumers who generate surplus renewable energy, typically through solar panels, to transfer excess power back into the grid. Smart meters accurately measure the energy consumed and generated, enabling precise billing and crediting.
Communication technology choices
Many utilities have either installed or are installing new or upgraded communication networks to deploy smart meters. They are leveraging a variety of wired and wireless communication technologies based on how well each technology fits with their operational goals, service area characteristics and business process constraints. Power line communication (PLC), radio frequency mesh, narrow band internet of things (NB-IoT) and optical fibre are some of the current communication technologies used in AMI systems.
PLC utilises existing infrastructure to establish data communication networks between the meter and data concentrator units (DCUs), which makes it cost-effective for remote rural areas. A radio frequency mesh is a self-configuring mesh network. It is dynamic in nature and finds the most optimal route for communicating meter data with the head-end systems/meter data acquisition systems through DCUs/routers. NB-IoT technology is being widely adopted by consumers and enterprises, with the number of connections now rising to the millions. The evolution in NB-IoT technology has led manufacturers to integrate it with metering systems, providing solutions for enabling both AMI and advanced meter reading.
Utilities are increasingly customising their own systems by combining multiple approaches and integrating them with both legacy and new systems, often incorporating multiple vendor products. In addition, many utilities use common communications platforms to support multiple field devices including smart meters, customer systems and distribution automation equipment.
With the wider adoption of IoT, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), AMI is expected to create a compelling advantage for utilities. Predictions become more precise when AI is combined with data from AMI, as compared to using AI alone. By using IoT-enabled sensors and devices, utilities can improve the accuracy of their data collection and reduce manual data entry errors. ML algorithms can identify patterns and trends in energy usage, predict future consumption and flag anomalies that may require attention.
Going forward, digitalisation, through the adoption of the right technologies, can play a pivotal role in addressing many of the current challenges faced by discoms, improving productivity and efficiency, and thereby transforming them from debt-ridden entities into financially stable and consumer-serving ones.