The socio-economic disruption caused by COVID-19 is well evident. The world economy is currently witnessing the worst recession since the great depression. The situation becomes even grimmer as this is the first recession that is not market induced. The essential services category has managed to stay afloat owing to its importance in sustaining lives and livelihoods. The power sector that falls under the essential services category has witnessed limited disruption.
There was a huge drop in the electricity demand during the lockdown owing to the factory and office closures in the Commercial & Industrial (C&I) sectors. The sector has also been afflicted with huge DISCOMs losses. During the lockdown, the Government had temporarily terminated meter-reading activities and many DISCOMs billed consumers on average consumption of previous months. The reduction in power demands and delays in payment collections has added further woes to the loss-making sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for rapid digitalisation across the board for the utility sector. It has brought to the fore the immediate necessity for improving the overall performance of the electricity distribution utilities through automated tools and systems, thereby improving services to the consumers.
Smart Meters can play a major role in curtailing the losses for the DISCOMs, as it will be instrumental in providing the consumers with accurate & timely billing, without manual intervention. These meters are equipped with communication capabilities (GSM/GPRS/RF) that aid in remote meter reading. As there is no lag in the generation of electricity bills, smart meters minimise the time involved in the generation of meter-to-cash.
Wider adoption of smart meters will result in better efficiency since less number of personnel is required for on-field jobs. With Smart Metering (or Advanced Metering Infrastructure), consumers will be at the core of the power sector for the very first time. The smart meters are equipped with wireless communication technologies, helping consumers optimise the use of electricity by analysing their usage patterns. These energy and capital savings will result in a better consumer experience.
Problems such as power pilferage and inefficiency in the distribution of electricity can be well addressed with these grid edge technologies. Under the Smart Meter National Programme (SMNP), Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) plans to replace 25 crore conventional meters with smart meters across the country. EESL is working towards building analytics that will provide consumers with information to reduce their usage and energy bills. India plans to have 100 percent prepaid smart meters for all the cities by 2022. This move would further increase the distribution capacity by 38 percent.
As per a report, DISCOMs using Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) witnessed an average 15 percent increase in monthly revenue per consumer. DISCOMs with 100 percent smart metering infrastructure could alleviate the issues related to power theft and losses. These meters are required for the implementation of the time of the day tariff, under which consumers would pay higher tariffs when demand is high and lower tariffs for electricity when demand is low.
Smart Meters also help in reducing the carbon footprint, thereby contributing to the ‘Green’ initiative which is an important part of the ‘Smart Cities’ mission. India is at the cusp of a major digital revolution and widespread mobile penetration is helping in bridging the digital divide that existed earlier.
Many rural households are equipped with distributed solar photovoltaic panels on their rooftops, due to which smart metering can be used for net metering (i.e. transfer of the surplus solar power to the energy grid). Thus, playing a major role in the integration of renewable power in India. India witnesses a total loss of ₹ 1,00,000 crore in the form of unbilled electricity and the solution to cater to this problem is ‘Smart Meters’.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in its report, ‘Sustaining India’s Power and Renewable Energy Sector in the wake of COVID19,’ apart from suggesting various short-term relief measures and medium-term solutions, has called for reforms to expedite smart metering and digital rollout to undertake a complete overhaul of the sector.The benefits offered by smart meters go well-beyond the COVID-19 crisis, as the two-way flow of electricity and information will change the gamut of electricity generation, transmission, and distribution through the adoption of smart technology. Smart meters are vital blocks in building a thriving digital energy ecosystem, as they will aid in the transformation of the beleaguered DISCOMs and provide the consumers with a wholesome new experience.