Leveraging IT in AT&C loss reductionAT&C loss is a serious threat to financial viability of power distribution utilities. Deepak V Konnur and Sainath Bandhakav of IBM India write how IT can be used to reduce the lossReduction in aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses is undoubtedly atop the organisational goals of every power distribution utility in India. With a country average loss at around 25 per cent, AT&C losses are posing a serious threat to financial viability of power distribution utilities. Utilities are leaving no stone unturned in trying to reduce AT&C losses. These include network augmentation, process re-engineering, and information technology adoption.Across the world, many utilities have been leveraging information and operational technologies to measure and improve their efficiency in multiple functions of business. In these utilities, the business challenges also vary in priority. Renewable energy integration is the top priority in a few parts of the globe. Few have customer empowerment as top priority; and in some parts, reduction of losses, peak shortage etc. take the top importance. Utilities are leveraging information and operational technologies to address these priority challenges to the extent possible.AT&C losses: India perspectiveAT&C loss in general involves technical as well as commercial losses. Technical losses occur due to inefficiencies in the distribution network. These include overloaded transformers, unbalanced phases, improper planning, and extension of distribution lines. Commercial losses occur due to theft, low meter reading efficiency, billing accuracy, etc. In short, AT&C loss is the difference between units input into the system and the units for which the payment is collected. These losses in India were as high as 38.86 per cent in 2001-02 and 34.54 per cent in 2005-06. Although there is no publicly available information of AT&C losses, it is said to be around 25 per cent.Few reasons that attribute to lossesAgeing assets and inadequate and poor maintenance of these assetsTheft and pilferage at various levels of the distribution systemUnplanned extension of distribution linesLack of optimisation of utility assets — phase balancing at DT level and feeder levelLack of metering at all consumption points: many customers are not metered and billed on minimum charges or fixed chargesLesser meter reading accuracy: data errors in capturing meter reading at consumption points leading to wrong billing and disputesLesser meter reading efficiency and billing efficiency.Utilities are investing in upgrading the distribution network and also IT/OT technologies to improve the efficiency and reduce the AT&C losses. At the same time, the Government of India has been also investing in the power distribution sector with the primary objective of reducing the AT&C losses. Accelerated power distribution and reform program is one such initiative through which the government is giving financial assistance to utilities to set up baseline IT/OT systems. The IT systems are expected to help utilities in measuring distribution system performance more accurately, and thereby account for energy flowing. The OT systems are expected to enable utility with better visibility and control on the distribution network.Leveraging IT to move to the next level of maturityThe basic IT systems implemented by utilities may not fully enable them to bring down the AT&C losses as these systems are facilitating them to capture and measure the details on ground. The next step toward maturity would be using these systems as the stepping stone. This transformation of the utility into a smarter utility can happen when things are instrumented, interconnected and intelligent.Measure and controlUnlike the limited visibility which utilities have today of the distribution network, utilities should gain larger observability over the network and automate control functions. This observability and control should be available at consumption points (consumer metering points) as well as on the distribution grid network (66/33/11 KV lines). At the consumption points, smart metering and beyond solutions can help utilities constantly monitor and measure the consumption pattern by individual customers, who would be aware of any tampering events recorded and control the consumption during grid stress and peak shortage. This helps utilities have accurate energy accounting which in turn gives actionable insights to utilities and helps them identify the areas with more losses are occurring more.On the distribution grid network side, operational technologies can help utilities constantly monitor the health of network and get notified of the faults in near real time basis. These operational technologies reduce the impact of an outage to a limited set of customers and help improve the network reliability indices. Furthermore, these systems give an analytical view of the asset utilisation in overloading patterns which can further help the utility manage loads so as to reduce the losses.Analyse and actThere is huge amount of information which is collected with these measuring devices and IT applications: consumption patterns, outage patterns, consumer consumption behaviour, feeder load profile, transformer load profile etc. In addition to the traditional operational reporting, utilities can analyse these data using advanced IT analytics tools to unlock the value within the data and derive actionable insights. There are also advanced technologies which can help achieve analytics in real time. These real-time analytics tools can help utilities monitor the performance parameters like AT&C losses in a particular feeder and take immediate action to mitigate losses to occur for a longer time.Similarly, there are infinite possibilities of analysing the data and taking actions which can help mitigate losses, few for instance:
Predictive analytics and condition-based maintenance of critical distribution assets, reducing the volume of unplanned outages and increasing the asset performance index
Identify potential theft cases
Outage analysis to identify areas of improvement based on fault occurrence patternsOptimiseUtilities can use IT as a gear to optimise the way many activities are performed. These network functions should be optimised based on constraints and rules. Applying optimisation methodologies to derive the best way of doing an activity (considering various constraints) can be a good decision making IT system for the utilities. For instance, outage planning can be better optimised by using complex IT analytical tools, thereby reducing the planned outage hours. Another example could be optimisation in demand forecasting which when done inaccurately burdens utilities with penalties which again eats away the bottom line. An advanced IT based demand forecasting system can help utilities reduce the gap between demand curve and actual load curves and therefore increases the utility’s bottom line.
Deepak V Konnur,Vice President Energy & Utilities, IBM India
Sainath Bandhakavi, Sr. Manager Energy & Utilities, IBM