The Indian government is aggressively pushing for the adoption of smart meters to create a robust power sector. In the Union Budget 2020-21, the finance minister urged states and union territories to replace all conventional electricity meters with prepaid smart meters within the next three years. Animesh Mishra, head, sales and PR, Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), discusses with Potshangbam July the importance of smart metering, its potential benefits to both consumers and distribution companies, and how it can reform the power sector.
EB: How many smart meters have been installed so far across the country?
Under our Smart Meter National Programme, we have installed 1,241,237 smart meters across the country so far. Out of these, 147,625 have been installed in Haryana, 57,662 in Delhi, 1,009,477 in Uttar Pradesh and 26,473 in Bihar.
EB: What are the primary requirements for the successful deployment of smart meters?
The smart meters are made with the latest technology, and are certified and type tested by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) as per IS 16444 guidelines, which are followed and accepted globally. These are installed in accordance with guidelines issued by the Central Electricity Authority, government of India. Smart meters are part of the overall Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) solution that measures and records consumers’ electricity usage at different times of the day, and sends this information to the energy supplier through GPRS technology.
The requirements for the successful deployment of smart meters include the rapid integration between meters of different makes —meters with corresponding AMI applications on the one hand, and seamless integration between AMI systems and a discom’s legacy IT systems on the other. Besides, robust telecom infrastructure for smooth communication among AMI applications, including hardware, is key for effective AMI services.
EB: How can smart meters empower both the power distribution companies and end consumers?
Smart meters are the pathway to digitisation, obviating manual intervention and enabling digital payments. Even in the lockdown situation, they clearly proved to be helpful to both discoms and consumers in handling operations while ensuring that social distancing norms were maintained.
Going for smart meters is indeed a smart choice – for both the consumers and discoms. Complete transparency regarding billing and consumption patterns empowers consumers to rationalise their electricity usage and save significantly, while the discoms benefit because of increased billing efficiency and real-time monitoring.
Regarding the benefits to consumers, let me list a few:
- There will be no manual errors and interference in recording the bills, since no one from the discom visits homes to take meter readings.
- Smart meters ensure energy and monetary savings.
- Timely availability of bill details to consumers via SMS and email helps consumers to pay bills via mobile and the Web.
- With a smart meter, the electricity bills of consumers will be based on accurate information rather than estimated readings.
- Self-monitoring by consumers enables analysis of consumption patterns.
And the benefits to discoms are:
- More transparency and accountability, as well as reduction in AT&C (aggregate technical and commercial) losses and power theft due to real-time monitoring.
- Improved billing efficiency (of up to 98 per cent) as well as collection efficiency (95 per cent).
- No more estimated bills—100 per cent billing to all consumers; availability of real-time data helps to balance out electric loads.
- Helps to reduce power outages – at peak times, the gap between available capacity and demand can be managed.
EB: Tell us about the procurement procedure of smart meters
Smart meters are procured through a tendering process. EESL is aggregating the demand of smart meters from various states in order to procure meters in bulk and achieve cost efficiencies. The entire upfront investment is borne by EESL and the discoms are required to pay it back through the savings accrued post the deployment of smart meters.
EESL, using its innovative ‘Pay as you save’ (PAYS) model, enables smart meter purchase at zero cost, which is bringing more and more discoms into the fold. They then begin receiving aggregated and processed metering data. With a one-time installation of a compact appliance along with allied cloud based IT systems, discoms also find it easy to introduce consumers to smart meters. Our proven model of bulk procurement, aggregation of demand, and monetisation of savings will be the approach to roll out smart meters. This roll-out is proposed under the build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) model, wherein EESL will undertake all the capital and operational expenditure with zero upfront investment from state utilities. EESL will receive a nominal internal rate of return, which is mutually agreed upon in an automated payback structure.
We have completed the procurement of 10 million smart meters and have recently successfully closed the RFP (request for proposal) of 5 million smart meters worth ₹ 13 billion.
The work on the smart metering project is under progress. Till date, more than 1.2 million smart meters have been installed across the country. EESL is installing these smart meters in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, NDMC-Delhi, and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
EB: The government plans to install 250 million smart meters under the Smart Meter National Programme in the next few years. Do you think the target is achievable?
Yes, it is feasible. The manufacturing capacity in the country is about 80-100 million electronic meters per year. The supply of meters is not an issue, and they are all manufactured in India. The industry, along with the Ministry of Power, has assured us that it can convert its lines to support smart metering in about five to six months. If the states and all the related sectors work closely together, this target will certainly be achievable.
EB: What are the major challenges faced with respect to smart meters?
There are issues to address, like system adaptability, discom adoption rates, and the overall scale of the whole programme. Conventional meters use an aging infrastructure that is not compatible with smart meters. The entire system needs to be overhauled to support a completely digitised ecosystem that will also take the country into the future in terms of smart-grid feasibility.
Smart metering is more about being digitally strong than just installing smart metering systems, which is just one small step. Having a smart meter is about having a dynamic piece of equipment in the houses of people communicating with the digital backend, round-the-clock. The backend should be very strong so as to do everything that used to be done physically, digitally.
There is also the challenge of state-level implementation. While the Central government has certainly made its intentions clear, it is ultimately the decision of state governments to take the implementation of smart meters forward based on the financial performance of the power distribution sector.
EB: How can smart metering solutions help to achieve the country’s energy efficiency goals?
As India makes rapid strides towards its vision of providing universal access to affordable power, it becomes important to eliminate the challenges faced by discoms. To overcome challenges such as billing inefficiencies, unauthorised power consumption, and the discoms’ financial woes, the government of India is accelerating the adoption of smart meters. We are supporting the discoms in their pursuit of energy sustainability and accountability with the adoption of future-ready technologies like smart meters. The thrust on such efficient systems is critical for consumption and growth in a sustainable manner and for enhancing the consumer experience through improved service delivery. While smart meters provide billing transparency and consumption patterns to the utilities, consumers are empowered to rationalise their electricity usage, save considerably, and help contribute towards energy efficiency.
EB: Are there any plans or initiatives to accelerate the adoption of smart meters?
EESL is working on accelerating the adoption of smart meters through its unique ‘Pay as you save’ (PAYS) model. This has been at the core of the successful implementation and the positive experience of partner discoms. EESL procures smart meters, as well as the services of the systems integrator with 100 per cent investment, enabling discoms to benefit with zero upfront financial investments. Their repayment to EESL is through the monetisation of energy savings, resulting from enhanced billing accuracy, the avoided meter reading costs and other efficiencies. These savings further enable discoms to invest in value-added services for its consumers.
The recent announcement by the finance minister for the installation of smart meters across the country will indeed help us to further accelerate their adoption. These meters are at the centre of a nationwide push to reform the power sector and vital for building a smarter and more robust power sector, along with a thriving digital energy ecosystem. Additionally, EESL has been running awareness campaigns in all the states, showcasing the benefits to consumers and discoms to boost the adoption of smart meters even further.
EB: In what way do you think smart meter technology is important for India’s ongoing power sector reforms?
Smart metering is one of the most comprehensive tools in the Indian distribution sector’s arsenal to usher in a new era of energy measurability. These meters enable discoms to forecast energy demand cycles in real-time, and swiftly rebalance the grid’s energy sources, achieving renewable energy infusion. With smart meters recording and anticipating fluctuations throughout the day, discoms can explore ‘Time of Use (ToU) tariffs’ that accurately reflect energy prices.
Through the deployment of smart meters, consumers can have access to a prepaid billing model. This is quite remarkable, as it enables the consumers to pay in accordance with their ability and convenience, while helping them to rationalise electricity consumption. The utility of smart meters is reinforced due to their efficient use of data, and it is possible to install them in relatively remote parts of the nation.
EB: Tell us about the key achievements of this programme up to this point? What are the next steps?
Apart from more than 1,200,000 smart meters installed by EESL across India so far, we have also enabled discoms to achieve around 95 per cent billing efficiency by using smart meters amid this lockdown and earn a 15-20 per cent average increase in monthly revenue per consumer. With the help of smart meters’ features such as remote connect and digital payments, the discoms have been able to maintain business continuity even during the ongoing lockdown and the need for social distancing.
In Bihar, smart meters have helped discoms achieve 100 per cent billing efficiency and recharge revenue of ₹ 500,000 amid the nationwide lockdown. A total of 28,000 smart meters have been installed in the state till date, out of which 25,000 are smart prepaid meters. In Uttar Pradesh, with EESL’s smart meters, discoms have achieved 97 per cent billing efficiency leading to 20 per cent increased monthly revenues, amidst the lockdown.
As on date, there have been more than 2000 new jobs created due to the installation of 1.2 million smart meters by EESL. Our action plan is to enable all 250 million consumers to adopt prepaid smart meters in the next three years. Coverage of 250 million users will also significantly enhance the creation of new jobs in power, telecom and the IT sectors.
With an aim to roll out large scale smart metering AMI projects across the country, it is important to onboard: (a) meters of different makes and (b) multiple system integrators.
The government of India is fast-tracking the adoption of smart meters to overcome the challenges faced by discoms such as billing inefficiencies and unauthorised power consumption. We are pleased to note that the adoption of future-ready technologies is enabling discoms to enjoy higher energy sustainability and accountability. It is also equally critical to adopt AMI (advance metering infrastructure) applications considering their high degree of scalability, and to deploy the latest communication and IT services. These are essential to cater to the growing data requirements emerging out of AMI systems.
EESL has already started a project to install 293,000 meters across Rajasthan. The states of Assam, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, and UTs like Jammu & Kashmir, Lakshadweep, and Daman & Diu are in talks with EESL to roll out smart metering AMI projects.
Till date, EESL has signed MoUs for smart meters with Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, Delhi (NDMC), and Telangana. NDMC is India’s first utility to provide all its consumers with smart meters without making any upfront investment.