Smart meters are being actively promoted by government bodies in order to change the power sector ecosystem. They come with a host of benefits for consumers as well as energy suppliers by reducing data entry costs, eliminating meter reading, and cutting down the quantum of commercial losses and the billing inefficiencies.
By Potshangbam July
Smart meters are getting popular in the power sector as they can potentially address the drawbacks that power distribution companies have been facing. The illegal manipulation of meters, billing discrepancies, power theft, etc, all contribute to the outage-led losses and the debt burden of power companies. In effect, there is a huge energy deficit during peak hours of power consumption, which limits the capacity of the power utility firms to meet the energy demands across the country. However, these handicaps could become a thing of the past with the use of smart metering systems. These enable bi-directional communication between consumers’ meters and utilities, apart from providing a lot more information to help them make better decisions about consumption patterns and the corresponding costs.
How it works
Smart electricity meters are electronic devices that track and record the consumers’ use of electricity. They give users information about their power consumption pattern via a display installed in their homes. They also communicate with the electric utility suppliers directly by transmitting this information, thereby eliminating manual monthly meter reading by their staff. The system works the other way round as well, enabling the energy suppliers to send information directly to the display within the consumers’ homes. Smart meters also store the history of the past energy-consumption data, which makes it feasible for consumers to do their own analysis of current energy usage, in comparison to past consumption. Besides, it enables users to register complaints and get quick solutions to problems related to power breakdowns.
How smart meters score over traditional electricity meters
Unlike the conventional analogue meters, smart meters offer a wealth of intelligent functions and benefits to consumers, electric utilities and the environment.
Here’s a look at the advantages offered by smart meters:
- Minimise human intervention
- Efficient management of power resources
- Accuracy of billing
- Eliminate the hassle of monthly meter readings
- Allow consumers to adjust their power consumption habits to bring down their bills
- Can detect the areas where energy is wasted
- Reduce operational costs of the supplier
- Can be placed anywhere within the house
- Control consumption and costs
- Allow utilities to switch power on or off remotely
- Voltage quality is regularly measured and recorded to achieve efficient grid operation
- Help reduce the operational costs incurred in manual meter reading
- Provide accessibility at remote locations besides offering the ability to detect power theft, meter tampering or power leakage
- Transparency in operations
Despite improving energy conservation, grid reliability and outage management, smart meters come with their share of disadvantages. One of the major areas of concern is the security and integrity of the meter, which raises a question about the privacy of consumers’ personal data, access control, errors, etc. There is the need to incorporate security measures for reliable operation. Smart meters with built-in communication modules lack flexibility in functionality for utilities. The high investments incurred when installing smart meters, coupled with the lack of expertise, are the stumbling blocks that are hampering the mass incorporation of smart meters.
Do smart meters pose a health threat?
There are fears regarding the health hazards posed by smart meters because of the perception that they use radio frequencies that emit dangerous levels of radiation. And the belief is that such radiation could lead to cancer, anxiety, insomnia, and a host of other health problems. One should note that radio waves are at that end of the electromagnetic spectrum (in which visible light forms the middle frequencies) with the longest wavelengths, and they have been used for decades to transmit radio and television broadcasts, mobile phone services and wireless Internet access.
According to a review by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the small amount of radio frequency (RF) energy produced by smart meters is not harmful to human health. Many experts have also come forward with reports of laboratory tests, citing that smart meters are very safe and emit such low levels of radio waves that they are not dangerous to health. In fact, these radio waves have much lower levels than microwaves, satellite TV, cell phones and Wi-Fi routers – typically, one million times less than the internationally agreed-upon guidelines. So far, there is no credible evidence that the RF emissions from smart meters pose a threat to human health.
Standards and specifications of smart meters
Standards for smart metering systems are yet to mature in India. In the absence of proper national standards, power distribution companies are using different technical specifications, and this impacts the quality and price of the product. Standards ensure reliability and effective communication, while lowering risks. They also help meter manufacturers to save the time to market, and provide a more level playing field that will make the utilities competitive and lucrative in the future. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) released standards for smart meters, such as IS 16444 in 2015 and IS 15959 Part 2 in February 2016, which do address the problem, partially.
In India, the adoption of smart metering is driven by the urgency to reduce the current aggregate, technical and commercial (AT&C) losses. To tackle these issues, the Ujwal Discoms Assurance Yojana (UDAY) scheme was launched by the government of India, which aimed to encourage the operational and financial turnaround of state-owned discoms by reducing AT&C losses to 15 per cent by FY19. In tune with the plan, the government had set a target to fast-track the roll-out of 35 million smart meters by the end of 2019. Besides, it had announced a plan to replace all existing electricity meters in the country with smart prepaid meters in the next three years. The government is also ramping up its plan to make smart metering mandatory to bring in more efficient management of energy. To meet these requirements, the Ministry of Power (MoP) had advised manufacturers to scale up the production of smart prepaid meters and work towards bringing down their prices.
A few reasons why the Ministry of Power is pitching for smart meters are:
- Smart metering will aid in making state utilities more efficient and bringing down the loss of energy
- Improve the financial health of distribution companies
- Incentivise energy conservation
- Enhance the ease of bill payment
- Smart meters are environmentally friendly since they do away with the paper copies
- Help low income consumers, as they can detect unnecessary usage of energy and limit it as per their budget and requirements
Besides, the Ministry of Power has urged the electrical equipment industry to come up with innovations that suit the domestic consumer as the country strives to become more energy efficient.
The way forward
Smart meters can become the game changer when it comes to solving India’s perpetual utility crisis. The technology has the capacity to control electricity thefts, a major problem that India has been facing for long. According to the Indian government, the aggregate technical and commercial losses (AT&C), which reflect transmission and collection efficiencies, came down to 18.75 per cent from 20.7 per cent in FY16. Given the electricity demand growth projection for the country, the plan is to reduce these losses to below 12 per cent by 2022, and below 10 per cent by 2027.
There are many positive developments taking place with the large-scale roll-out of smart electricity meters to replace over 300 million metering points. Recently, Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL) announced the completion of a project to replace 50,000 conventional electricity meters with smart meters in the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) area. EESL has also roped in French government-owned power utility Electricite de France SA (EDF) for installing 5 million smart meters in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. Thus, the road ahead looks promising, and the stage is set for India’s transition towards a low-carbon economy and an energy-secure nation.
Advantages of smart meters
There are several advantages of using a smart meter:
- It ensures accurate reading of power consumption, which is good for both the power utility and consumers since it avoids over and under billing.
- Takes care of several persistent challenges faced by utilities including power theft or meter tampering, which are harder to control with analogue (non-digital) meters.
- Helps utilities understand the consumption patterns much better through the data collected via smart meters.
- Enables utilities and discoms to offer consumers innovative energy tariff plans. As smart meters are a part of the larger effort to digitise the power ecosystem, they lower wasteful consumption and thus help to reduce the carbon footprint at an individual level.
- Smart meters help improve the financials of utilities and discoms by enabling the implementation of a prepaid billing system, apart from lowering the transmission and distribution losses caused by under-billing, theft, pilferage, etc.
The initial capex for smart meters is higher than for conventional meters. However, this should not be looked at in isolation as the benefits of using smart meters will certainly offset the initial capex. Smart metering will eliminate the costs associated with taking monthly meter readings, quality checks, billing complaints, payment collections in case of prepayment meters, connections and disconnections wherever applicable, etc.
Special skills or training are needed
Installing a smart meter requires a completely different skillset, and hence the workforce needs to be specially trained for the task. One of the reasons for slow smart meter installation is the lack of adequate and skilled manpower. Under the Indian government’s Skill India Mission, the Tata Power Skill Development Institute is training people to acquire the right skills to implement this important change in the Indian power sector.
For the initial phase of installing smart meters and subsequently maintaining them, India will require trained manpower. This will also be an opportunity to convert and prepare India’s workforce for the digital future.
Smart meters are the future of the Indian power sector. They represent an essential move towards Digital India. Yet, there are a few early challenges like the high cost of implementation, the lack of skilled manpower, data integration and interoperability issues, all of which need to be addressed to ensure a smooth transition from India’s analogue to digital metering system. Apart from this, lack of consolidated data at the feeder level also affects the efficiency and accuracy of billing and collection.
Smart meters result in accurate billing and, above all, they can bring about greater transparency in the Indian power sector. Today, with the average national transmission and distribution losses amounting to 20 per cent, with some parts of India recording 40 per cent losses, smart meters represent one of the best ways to address this big challenge.
According to a recent report, the government of India’s Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL) plans to replace 250 million conventional meters. This will result in increasing the discoms’ annual revenues to ` 1.38 trillion, significantly improving their financial health.
These key points on smart energy meters have been provided by Tata Power.
A list of smart electricity meters
Product: Saksham -125/145, Manufacturer: Genus Power Infrastructures Ltd
Saksham -125/145 is an ideal fit for advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems that are intended for load management, multi-rate/time-of-use and anti-theft metering of residential and light commercial consumers with single-phase service connections. The product gives utilities end-to-end visibility into their distribution networks.
- Municipal corporations
- Shopping complexes
Product: Sx401, Manufacturer: Meter & Control
Sx401 is the series of three-phase and single-phase integrated smart meters designed to measure active and reactive electrical energy of residential, commercial and industrial consumers/prosumers with communication and switching modules. Communication and power management with a PLC data concentrator is via S-FSK or the G3-PLC protocol. The single-phase meter is available in direct grid connection, while the three-phase model is available in both direct and CT connections. Sx401 supports IDIS and DLMS/COSEM interoperability.
- Measurement of electrical values
- IDIS interoperability
- Integrated PLC modem
- Internal real-time clock with DST
- Flexible tariff policy with up to four tariffs
- Optical port
- Fraud detection
- No-power reading and parameterisation
- Billing profiles
- Fraud profile
- Load profiles
- Measurement of energy quality
- Visual communication with the meter
- Functional inputs/outputs
- Integrated switching module (optional)
- Power limits
- Event logs
- Measurement of energy quality
Product: AES110B, Manufacturer: Holley Group
These controllers are available to clients in customised specifications at leading markets. With an optional Wi-Fi direct connection module, one can read all the parameters any time on the mobile or laptop.
- Single-phase, single element, four terminals
- SW/FW OTA upgradable
- Memory headroom for future applications
- Designed for manufacturability and reliability
- Voltage operating range: 172.5V-264.5V
- Current: 10A(100A)
- Ingress protection: IP53
- Operating temperature range: -25°C to 55°C
- Supports time of use (TOU) block mode
- Up to 48 tariffs
- 4 x 8 block register matrix, 4 x 8 block price matrix
- AES-128/ECC data encryption
- Complies with GBCS data security standards
- Beeper alarm
- GBCS baseline specifications
- DLMS/COSEM compliant
- HAN: ZigBee SEP1.2 (<10mW)
- Optical port: IEC62056-21
- 160 x 50 dot matrix LCD display
- Backlight configurable
Product: ISKRA ME371, Manufacturer: SMS Metering
The ISKRA ME371 is a single-phase DLC smart meter, suitable for residential and light commercial use. The main features of this meter are active and reactive energy measurement, two load profile recording channels, an optical interface for local communications, and a DLC modem for integrating into a low-voltage network with the P2LPC concentrator.
- AMR with integrated DLC communication
- Multi-utility input for water, heat or gas meter readings
- Relays for remote and local load control
- Indication of operational status and alarms
- Very high EMC immunity
- Tamper detection
- Universal current terminal for all types of wires
- Optical port for local meter reading/programme