GIS converts complexity to simplicity

Written by Isher Judge Ahluwalia | Updated: Nov 30 2011, 06:08am hrs
Many of us have heard of GIS (Geographic Information System) and GPS (Global Positioning System) technology, and we tend to associate it with research and its applications in agriculture, space, or climate change. But GIS/GPS is also a powerful tool in the hands of those who shape the urban destiny of India. It is already making a major impact in some cities and towns of India in addressing specific challenges of service delivery as seen in some of our earlier columns, e.g. improving efficiency of bus services in Ahmedabad, Indore and Bhopal, improving road safety in Tamil Nadu, ensuring cleaner streets and better solid waste management in Hyderabad, and strengthening financial resources of the Municipal Corporation by boosting property tax revenues in Bangalore.

GIS can also help address the challenges of managing electricity distribution in our cities and towns, especially controlling theft of electricity, which often happens with the collusion of the distribution staff. NDPL (North Delhi Power Limited), an electricity distribution company with 51% ownership of Tata Power and 49% of the Government of Delhi, has addressed this challenge by using GIS technology and combining it with IT applications.

NDPL covers an area of 510 sq km serving about a third of the population of Delhi, with 1.2 million metered connections in localities such as Civil Lines, Model Town, Shakti Nagar, Pitampura, Rohini, Shalimar Bagh, Moti Nagar, Narela, Bawana, Mangolpuri, etc. New technology, together with efficient management, has enabled NDPL to ensure better planning, better operation and maintenance of assets, better delivery of service, and better recovery of dues.

Delhi was the second state after Orissa to reform the power sector by privatisation of electricity distribution in 2002 with three distribution companies taking the place of a public sector monopoly. In a process of competitive bidding, NDPL in its winning bid made a commitment to reduce the power theft/inefficiencies (euphemistically referred to as aggregate technical and commercial losses) from 53% in July 2002 to 31% by 2006-07. In the event, the reduction in losses overshot the target, and the losses stood at 23.7% in 2006-07. They have since been reduced further and now stand at 13.2%, compared with 27% at the all-India level.

NDPL was able to improve service delivery, e.g., reduction in the time taken to get a new connection (from 15 days to 2 days) or waiting time for restoration of service (from an average of 3 hours to 1 hour) as a direct result of an integrated approach which combines better information attained through GIS maps with IT applications.

It began with GIS mapping of the network, which was completed by end-2006. GIS maps were digitised using satellite images and field surveys of the network, including distribution transformers and other assets, land base covering the licensed area, as well as the data on customers. The mapping of assets helps the company to identify the route of the network for fastest rectification of any fault. It also leads to saving on the extra length of cables which were used in the absence of proper verification of the actual need.

GIS mapping of customers and IT also helps identify theft because it allows the company to trace the actual customers connected to specific distribution transformers. The data on electricity passing through individual transformers can be compared with the data on electricity billed to the households connected to the transformers, to provide an accurate indication of the level of electricity lost for each transformer. Large deviations from normal loss levels give an indication of where theft may be occurring. As Arunabha Basu from NDPL put it, GIS converts complexity to simplicity.

NDPL has innovatively interfaced and integrated GIS with its other enterprise systems which cover its key business processes. The GIS mapping work was supplemented with GIS applications that were developed and implemented in 2008. NDPL now manages network upgradation with GIS, which reduces field visits for data collection. Any changes made in the network (like new connections, new transformers, old transformers replaced, etc.) are concurrently updated for all users, e.g.

consumers, linemen, meter readers, and those attending to complaints.

GIS information is interfaced with SAP (Systeme Anwendungen Produkte), an enterprise resource package software that controls financials, human resources, plant maintenance, billing, and material and project systems management at NDPL. All SAP modules are interconnected, which makes real time reporting possible. Thus, geo-referenced location of each asset of NDPL is integrated with plant maintenance modules of SAP for preventive maintenance of the system. The Outage Management System is integrated with GIS such that on receipt of a complaint, the person handling an outage checks with the application as to which feeder is at fault and how many customers are affected. This helps in immediate fault rectification.

GIS mapping of customers not only helps with accurate billing but also helps detect a defaulter trying to get a new connection on the same premises after having been disconnected once for non-payment.

The total cost of the new technology was R4 crore, and this investment is perceived to be tariff neutral by the management. As Sunil Wadhwa, MD, NDPL put it, the payback period is very short. The saving has been of the order of R2 crore per year.

In recognition of these achievements, in 2008 NDPL received the most coveted Edison award from the Thomas Edison Institute in Washington DC, for innovative use of GIS in their distribution business. The Institute, an 85-year-old organisation, recognises one utility from the US and one from outside of the US every year for something innovative done in the power sector.

Most cities and towns of India suffer from power shortages, power theft, loadshedding, and a highly dysfunctional power distribution system. If NDPL can do it, why not others

Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia is chairperson, ICRIER, and also former chairperson of the High Powered Expert Committee on Urban Infrastructure Services, which submitted its report to MoUD in March 2011