By Anil Rawal
India’s power distribution forms the weakest link in the power value chain. Yet, the success of the ongoing energy transition efforts would depend a lot on enabling the sector to undergo financial and operational efficiency improvement. While technology has been the key driver of transformation across the power sector, the distribution sector has not seen much change when it comes to using technology as a transformational tool. With the policy and regulatory framework for making systemic efficiency improvements in the sector being put in place and financial commitments being demonstrated by the central government, there is an all-around realisation now in the sector that without modernisation of the power distribution system, the national vision to ensure power for all round the clock and the systemic drive for rapid socio-economic development of the country cannot be achieved.
Smart Meter National Program (SMNP), being positioned and promoted through the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS,) is the key program to mobilize resources, technology and processes, and the flagship endeavour of the administration to drive transformation in the sector and bring in digitalization and technology as enabling tools in this mission program.
Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) & Digitalising Power Sector
The AMI system infrastructure, which seeks to deploy smart prepaid meters at scale, is the foundation on which the Government of India’s modernisation efforts of the power distribution system are being based. This is because smart metering plays a crucial role in addressing some of the fundamental issues that are troubling the distribution sector, starting with the operational and financial concerns of the DISCOMs that have created a regressive ripple effect across the power value chain.
AMI – an integrated system of equipment, communications, and information management systems –
can play a significant role in addressing these challenges. The end-to-end AMI includes smart electric meters, which are supported by technologies such as communication network, Head-End System (HES), Meter Data Management System (MDMS), and Cloud systems. It has the capability to record and store consumer’s energy usage data and communicate to utility’s legacy system at regular intervals. It can similarly allow Discoms to read and interpret consumer’s energy consumption pattern and generate accurate bills as well as optimise electricity supply. The entire AMI system is cloud based, making the digital infrastructure highly secure and scalable as per the demand situation.
Benefits of AMI-backed Digitalised Power Sector
A robust AMI infrastructure, at the very least, enable DISCOMs to enhance their operational and financial productivity by significantly improving billing and collection efficiency. Smart meter AMI can reduce current cumulative AT&C losses significantly. Billing and collection losses, which make about 50% of the total loss, can be directly reduced by more than 98% with the smart metering program, if deployed in its right spirit across the DISCOMs. Besides DISCOMs, it is the end consumers as well as the larger economy that will benefit from the smart metering program.
The smart metering ecosystem allows DISCOMs to accurately read and gauge consumer’s energy consumption and generate exact bills – a far cry from the current situation where bills are inconsistent, and consumers continue to pay in an ad-hoc manner. In the long run, DISCOMs will be able to utilise the data to even customise electricity supply to meet the exact demand.
With time, the burgeoning grid-interactive rooftop solar PV system will pave the way for consumers to turn into prosumers – who produce solar energy and also consume electricity from the grid. With energy imported from the grid and exported from the PV system valued at different tariffs, the implementation success of concepts like gross metering, net metering and net billing hinges considerably on the uptake of smart meters and a strong supportive system infrastructure.
Counting the National Gains
A World Bank report estimates that if the entire Indian population gets connected to one digitalised national grid with round the clock power supply, it will increase annual rural household income by $9.4 billion and reduce business losses by $22.7 billion per year. At the very foundation of a digitalised smart grid lies smart metering and a capable AMI architecture.
There is another important reason for India’s smart metering and digitalisation of its grid network requirement. Like any responsible nation, India is taking essential steps to reduce its carbon footprint and ensure sustainable development to combat global climate change. India’s commitment to achieve net zero by 2070 and target to get 50% energy from renewable sources mean the grid needs to attain demand-side flexibility. Demand-side management of the grid based on granular data harvesting and building the components of digitalisation is the only way to manage the issues and meet the decarbonisation commitments.
Digitalisation of power sector with AMI and Smart Meters is critical and beneficial for the entire energy value chain starting from generation companies to end consumers. Besides mitigating electricity theft, wastage and losses to DISCOMs, it protects consumers against inflated bills, boosts energy efficiency, responsible power consumption behaviour, and importantly, turns the whole system profitable. In the 21st century, the implementation of AMI is crucial not just for power sector’s health but also for India’s sustainable growth and development.
(Anil Rawal is MD & CEO, IntelliSmart Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd. The views expressed are author’s own.)