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The best of being a smart meter

The quest for power savings somewhat ends with ‘smart’ meters. Here, the industry experts shed light on how meters, when being ‘smart’, can optimise electricity consumption and balance out the load distribution.

In yesteryears, meters were used to measure the electricity consumption and up to a certain extent were also used in communicating the data at the end of the month to a billing station. However, it did not have the intelligence to control the consumer load on predefined logic, say over voltage/current, abnormal frequency or any tamper conditions, etc. Today, smart meters are the unpronounced ruler of the gas and electricity industry.

What is so ‘smart’ about smart meters?
Smart meters have inbuilt communication technology to communicate on a real-time basis with the central power station. They can report any abnormal condition happening at the meter and can reduce the response utility time. Smart meters provide different tariff plans to the customer so as to reduce demand during peak hours and eliminates the manual meter reading costs and associated error of meter reading.

J K Agarwal, Joint MD, Genus Power Infrastructure, says, “With more consumer awareness, energy consumption can be reduced, which would help in good power savings. It also helps the consumers to monitor their hourly, daily, weekly and monthly consumption.”

The consumers would be able to customise their electricity consumption and get a low bill, where controlled electricity gets coupled with ‘Time of Use’ (TOU).

Smart meter, whether it be electricity, water or gas, has a lot of significance of the word ‘smart’ associated with it. An electronic energy meter logs past 3 to 6 months of consumption (billing data) along with consumption pattern (load survey). It also has tamper detection intelligence and provides multiple communication ports for pulling the data out. It provides a nice display for consumer’s and meter reader’s convenience.

Abhed Mishra, System Applications Lead, LPRF, Texas Instruments, says, “Smart meters give all the information through consumer display unit and local display needed for load analysis, which in conjunction with tariff for peak hours can be used to balance out the load distribution along with monetary savings for consumer.”

The consumption pattern allows consumer to distribute their load over the day, like using washing machine in cheaper tariff hours and using air conditioners on little higher temperatures; thereby, conserving power and saving money. This also allows utilities to purchase power, if needed, from other states or utilities in off-peak hours on cheaper rates.

Abhed Mishra adds, “Pre-payment facility discourages defaulters and ensures cash flow for utilities making them run in profit instead of heavy losses. It is very important to know that most of the power utilities in India are running in losses due to heavy AT&D (aggregate technical and commercial) losses, which generates an absolute need for smart meters.”

A smart meter, in addition, has features of alarm notification in case of severe tampering attacks such as high ESD (electro static discharge) and EMP (electromagnetic impulse). The smart meter not only logs it inside but also generates an alarm to preconfigured mobile numbers or email accounts of utility personnel for immediate attention. This feature not only prevents power theft but also provides valuable evidence against those notorious consumers.

“In some parts of world, the smart meter architecture even allows the utilities to plug any communication module on to the smart meter, giving them flexibility to communicate wirelessly (using LPRF radio modules or GSM/GPRS) or through wired medium(PLC or RS-485)”, says Abhed Mishra.

Why to be ‘smart’?
There may be various levels of ‘smart-ness’ behind smart meters. Siddharth Gangal, CEO, The Solar Labs, says, “IoT and AI have the potential to bring in huge energy efficiency improvements saving both electricity for consumers and money for DISCOMs. For example, domestic consumers are charged based on units consumed and not on the time taken for consumption of energy. Smart technology can incentivise consumers to use more in off-peak times and less in peak times, thus, generating savings DISCOMs.”

Smart meters can help bring in more solar interface with energy storage solutions to better support non-conventional energy sources such as solar and wind and keep the grid more stable.

A smart meter can communicate over IPV6 networks (every meter has unique IPV6 address worldwide) giving the consumer and utility absolute information and control, respectively. Abhed Mishra of Texas Instruments is also of the opinion that smart meters are getting smarter every day. He says, “The credit goes to all the power utilities, Indian standard defining bodies and meter manufacturers who voice their challenges to leading solution providers such as Texas Instruments to design and come up with innovative solutions for not only smart meter but smart grid, too. These stake holders can then benefit from the smartness of the smart meters.”

Defining the current scenario
Smart cities, smart grids and smart meters are all buzz-words in India as of this moment. There have been a few pilots of forward thinking utilities such as TPDDL. Smart technology will play a huge role in bringing down consumption, which means lesser fossil fuels.

Siddharth Ganga of The Solar Labs says, “Today, residential consumption is 24 per cent of electricity produced and a staggering 75 per cent is used for lighting and cooling. Residential consumption would surge 260 per cent by 2021, according to the World Bank.”

Smart metering and smart grid technology in the electricity sector have recently pulled much attention of industry and Indian Government to improve the performance of power utilities. India is regarded as the second largest electricity market size in the world.

J K Agarwal of Genus Power Infrastructure, says, “The current size of the energy market in India is $340.82 million and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8-10 per cent over the next 4-5 years. India is expected to install 35 million smart meters by 2019 and the smart meter market in India is projected to reach 19.98 billion by 2010. It is also expected that India will have an installation base of 130 million smart meters by 2021.“

India is one of the nation, which has been leader in defining, evolving and adopting to smart meters over the time and ahead of the world. The acceptance among the consumer is also very encouraging supported by the benefits, which come along with smart meters to a consumer.

Abhed Mishra of Texas Instruments says, “As smart meters are completely made in India and for India, they compose a considerable amount of ecosystem from architecture, manufacturing, usage and serviceability perspective.” Being completely manufactured in India, the product also contributes to a considerable amount of revenue generation in the electrical equipment industry.

The drivers, the hurdles, the challenges
Power theft is a major issue that a country faces, where lines are tapped and rarely anyone comes to know about it. Using smart grid technology, this can be a thing of the past.

Siddharth Gangal says, “One of the main advantages of smart meters is its role in increasing in energy efficiency. By lowering energy supply and by bringing in energy efficiency, DISCOMs are heavily benefitted as they typically lose money, supplying energy to domestic consumers as they are effectively cross-subsidised by the C&I sector.

In the US, initiatives such as PACE programme have created new business models, which are focused on increasing efficiencies by reducing electricity consumption and increasing solar adoption through leasing models, all through private innovation.

Siddharth points out that apart from the upgradation cost of the grid and installation of smart meter technology, there seem to be no factors slowing this drive. He opines, “There should be hardly any drawbacks to smart meters and thus, there are no major opposition against smart technology. It truly is a win-win for all stakeholders involved.”

The most important thing is that the users are driving this revolution. Consumers want to know what is happening inside their appliances, and especially meters, which have always been a black box with some figures on display, which may not be even clear to most of the users. This is where smart meters play their part by making the user aware of what is happening inside.

Abhed Mishra explains further by saying, “With BLE enabled meters, the user can have the consumption analysis, billing, current power usage, etc. on a smart phone or on in-home display. On the other hand, it allows the power utilities to manage the total power demand and losses, ensuring higher efficiency in operation and distribution.”

With ‘smartness’ being brought in electricity meters have a lot more to offer such as load control, prepaid recharge, non-tampering and anti-theft features, too. Unlike conventional pre-paid meters, where you had to manually enter the recharge code, smart meters get recharged through wireless connectivity after doing authentication from utility’s central server on cloud.

The most important and critical challenges are:

  • Tampering of energy meters
  • Proprietary communication protocols for data collection
  • Non-standard head end system
  • Transmission and distribution losses

There are few limitations which are preventing mass scale implementation of the smart metering. Utilities have already spent a sizable amount for upgrades on existing electromechanical or old static meters. Therefore, reinvestment for smart metering will be difficult at the regulator as well as utility perspectives.

According to J K Agarwal of Genus Power Infrastructure, “DISCOMs, the major buyer of power equipment, continues to face the biggest concern or challenge, though sincere efforts are on progress in the form of various schemes by the Government of India to alleviate the poor financial health of the country’s ailing distribution companies.”

A lot has to be done on the critical measures of performance of DISCOMs – in reducing the gap between average cost of electricity supplied and the average revenue realisation and reduction in ‘aggregate technical and commercial’ (AT&C) losses, which is basically the loss of energy due to inefficiency of equipment and theft of electricity. The tamper conditions are specific to each region in India.

J K Agarwal, therefore, says, “Metering industries in India have to continuously upgrade their products to overcome these tampers. Continuous and dedicated efforts make it possible for the indigenous meter manufacturers to deliver cost-effective and efficient energy metering solutions that are globally in demand, too.“

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