Future of metering industry lies in smart grid
“Discoms have started talking about smart grid technology which is named as one of the seven technologies that may help change the world,” asserts Tushar Bhavsar, Head-IHV Sales & Strat, The Motwane Manufacturing Company
Meters play an important role in power distribution system. What is your opinion on the current status of metering in India?Among the many problems that electricity utilities are facing in distribution of electric energy fairly and collecting, in return, a fair economic price for it, the problem of metering could seem to be insignificant, given the capital outlay on it. Even today the standard rotating disk single-phase electromagnetic meters are used in many states by the distribution companies for such an installation may cost more than about 1-2 months consumption at these tariffs. An order-of-magnitude calculation shows this to be not more than Rs. 6-8 per kWH of connected load.
With present investment costs on generation alone above Rs. 50,000 per kW, investment on metering is much low in comparison with total investment, but at least for domestic consumers, large in comparison with collections. Is it worthwhile to invest on improving metering technology? The answer is yes, for a variety of reasons. The simple electromagnetic meter suffers from several problems. For one thing, it can easily collect dust which will cause friction and slow down its rotation. This may make a material difference to its recording, a difference that may persist unnoticed for several years until the slowing down is sufficient to yield absurdly low readings or cause a complete stoppage.
Secondly, the electromagnetic meter records the actual consumption only when the power factor is one, i.e. when current and voltage are in phase. If the power factor is different from one, there are heat losses in motors and induction coils as well as reactive power losses which it does not record. Thus, for example, the true power consumed by rheostat-controlled domestic fans and fluorescent lights equipped with electromagnetic chokes is hidden. These factors alone would point to the advantages of reasonably-priced electronic meters, even if they are somewhat costlier than electromagnetic meters. One can add that the case does not even need to be argued for high demand installations, including both small industries and commercial establishments. They generally pay higher tariffs besides consuming much more energy for a single meter.
There are other technical parameters that prove detrimental in using the electromechanical meters. In view of the above limitations and disadvantages of electromechanical meters, most of the distribution companies have migrated to electronic metering for almost every type of customers including residential, industrial and commercial installations. The government realised the advantages and therefore made it mandatory for the discoms to migrate to electronic metering in phased manner through the Electricity Act 2003.
Today 81 discoms are distributing 2,10,000 MW of power to customers across different categories like residential, commercial and industrial consumers. The aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses which were to the tune of 38.5 per cent during 2001 is targeted to be brought down to 15 per cent by the end of 11th Plan and metering has played a major role in achieving the same.
Where does India stand compared to developed countries in terms of metering technology?The developed countries have such complex metering systems unlike India as the objective of metering are quite different. In developed countries, power is looked upon as an integral part of life and consumers expectations are uninterrupted, quality power (free from all pollution and harmonics), correct and timely billing, ease of payments and point of payments, regular update on consumptions (daily/weekly and monthly basis), pattern of consumption during time of day, etc.
In India, we are still far from all these and are slowly marching toward the same. But it will take some time before we have such kind of expectations from the distribution companies. The metering in advanced countries is fairly simple and the meters are not so complex, especially the tamper features. This is reflected in the International Standards that do not carry too much of weightage on tamper conditions. In contrast, the Indian Standards and CBIP Standards which are widely used while procuring the meters have a number of tamper conditions which are unthinkable by any advanced countries. This is one of the major reasons why MNCs do not participate in Indian tenders or have a separate Indian arm catering to only Asian consumers.
What steps can be taken to avoid such meter tampering? Prevention is the best remedy. In India instead of penalising the customers who tamper the meters, the discoms penalise themselves or the consumers by procuring costly tamper proof meters. I feel, the laws governing the tampering of meters and theft of power should be made stringent and implemented impartially with no political or external pressure. By doing this the discoms can concentrate on accurate and reliable metering as the tamper proof meters become too complicated and are vulnerable to the fluctuations and prevailing conditions. This is fairly evident from the number of failures during the corresponding decade.
What are innovations happening in the sector?The discoms have started talking about smart grid technology which is named as one of the seven technologies that may help change the world, driven by the governments and industry, is transforming how electricity is generated, stored, distributed, and consumed. It provides real-time monitoring of transformers and line voltage, data collection and remote control of system elements such as substations, intelligent devices, smart meters, power lines, capacitor banks, feeder switches, fault analysers, and other physical facilities. The smart grid framework also provides consumer participation in demand side management (DSM).
The smart grid is defined as a future power delivery grid that enables active participation by consumers, accommodates all generation and storage options, and enables new products, services and markets. It also provides power quality for the range of needs in a digital economy, optimises asset utilisation and operating efficiency, responds to system disturbances in a self-healing manner, and operates resiliently against attacks and natural disasters.
The technologies such as automated metering infrastructure with hybrid solutions are being largely discussed across all discoms and a few of them have implemented it on pilot basis to check the technical and financial feasibility before going for mass deployment.
Tell us about your product offering for meters and how do they differ from other players.Motwane is the first company in India to install a commercial AMR (automated meter reading) site for a private discom covering approximately 3,000 nodes of residential and commercial establishments in 2004. The solution is based on narrow band PLCC and GSM. The site is in successful operation from last 8 years. Motwane is the only Indian company offering an indigenously designed and developed hardware as well as software solution. Our primary focus is on quality and reliability which is the hallmark of any Motwane product.
Do you have any expansion plan in pipeline?We are not into meter manufacturing but are concentrating on value-added smart grid solutions. We will be investing approximately $2,00,000 in the current financial year on smart grid solutions. We are also partnering with leading IT company to offer an integrated solution to the customer.
What is your outlook for the industry in coming years?The future of metering lies in smart grid as there is no escape from implementing this solution as soon as possible. However, there are few bottlenecks to be cleared before deploying this solution. The most critical issue is financial freedom and the second is affordable and reliable technology.
Future of metering industry lies in smart grid