Smart meters: Invaluable in the current scenario & imperative in a post COVID world

The relevance & utility of SmartMeters has long been apparent. The current situation has only served to reinforce their efficacy, by completely eliminating manual interventions. Smart Metering is poised to be the launchpad for a comprehensive reform of the power sector. Writes Saurabh Kumar, Managing Director, EESL.

Our world is currently in throes of a great turmoil. The COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the globe, impacting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. India too has been touched by the tendrils of this disease, with large swathes of our nation under lock down to break the chain of transmission. The effect of the pandemic has gone beyond the health of the populace, pervading into our economy and infrastructure. All sectors have felt the heat from a shutdown of life as we know it and the power sector too hasn’t been spared.

India’s power sector has traditionally been afflicted with high DISCOM losses. This situation has aggravated even more, as DISCOMs are now unable to collect meter readings and bills physically. However, the situation has been less gloomy, with the advent of solutions such as Smart Meters, which have curtailed the losses for the DISCOMs that have adopted them. For example, in Uttar Pradesh, 95% of smart meter consumers have been billed during the lockdown, as against just 29% for the rest. This showcases a wide chasm between smart meter users and otherwise, highlighting their remarkable efficacy. Smart meters are helping DISCOMs in handling this crisis effectively by enabling auto collection of meters read over the air, reducing the need for manual intervention, remote connect/disconnect as per the state utility guidelines and enabling digital payments of bills.

The benefits of smart metering, beginning with a seamless online billing process, real time tracking of electricity usage, and reduction of billing errors has cascaded down the energy value chain to the consumers as well. Consumers have, for the first time emerged as the focal point in the power sector. The ability to track their usage real time has translated into energy and capital savings for the consumers, along with an access to a new era of consumer experience. In fact, we are working towards making it even better, by building analytics to help consumers compare energy usage amongst similar consumers and to provide them with information to reduce their usage and energy bills, even further.

The utility of smart meters goes beyond the current crisis, however. Smart meters are the center of a nationwide push to reform the power sector. They are essential for building a smarter and robust power sector, along with a thriving digital energy ecosystem. Furthermore, the most critical and weakest link in the power sector are the DISCOMs, which are being transformed with the advent of Smart Metering. A testimony to this is that the DISCOMs using AMI saw an avg. 15% increase in monthly revenue per consumer, which is INR 250. In Uttar Pradesh, which has benefited considerably from smart metering, there was a 36% reduction in exceptional billing in four DISCOMs. While NDMC, which is the first DISCOM to achieve 100% smart metering, has been able to monitor all meter tampering attempts as well as abnormal usage conditions in real time, thus greatly alleviating issues of power theft and losses.

Apart from transforming the power sector, the secondary benefits to smart metering are also significant. Smart meters enable time of day metering and thus, will play a pivotal role in the integration of renewable power in India. It also helps reduce the carbon footprint through diminishing patrolling for meter reading, disconnection, reconnection and outage detection. Smart Metering is also beneficial to local economies, as there have been more than 2000 new jobs created in the installation of 1.2 million smart meters by EESL, till date.

The central government is also honing its focus on smart metering and had recently called out for all 250 million consumers to adopt pre-paid smart meters in the next 3 years. In fact, the current stimulus from the government to alleviate the stress from the power sector is focused on its reformation, with the first step being the widespread proliferation of smart metering. We, at EESL are currently undertaking smart metering projects in numerous states of India, namely, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar, Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar.

Thus, Smart Meters have the potential to make the power sector increasingly resilient, transparent, digitized, and accountable.  A seamless and consumer-focused energy ecosystem is the way forward and thus we need to encourage the adoption of smart meters across the country. I believe that smart metering is imminent and would be the most significant outcome post-COVID-19.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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