Experts Column

Shifting focus to smart meters

Reji Kumar Pillai, President – India Smart Grid Forum

“Smart metering and advanced analytics solutions could improve not only the energy accounting”

Reji Kumar Pillai, President – India Smart Grid Forum, still believes that there is a lot left to be done before India can say “We are a surplus country”. He discusses the intense need for smart meters the entire distribution operations of a utility.

Global vs India’s power transformation
Globally, the power utilities are undergoing major transformation. With distributed generation and mainstreaming of renewables, electric utilities are at the threshold of a paradigm change. Energy storage, electric vehicles, smart microgrids and digitalisation are changing the structure and operational dynamics of the utilities. However, India is still struggling with mundane issues of access, availability and network losses. Nothing has changed structurally in the power sector during the last ten years except the increased focus on renewable energy and its cost coming down.

What is going wrong and what needs to be done?
Distribution sector reforms with R-APDRP, RGGVY, IPDS and DDUGVY have made limited impact in some pockets. Economic activities still suffers from unreliable power supply and skewed tariff regime. Per capita consumption of electricity in India is still one-third of world average. Besides the power plants that are idling, several power plants are facing coal shortage leading to dependence on imported coal, which will increase the cost of power. Unless we correct these issues, we will be back to the era with frequent power cuts all over the country.

Will an overall electrification of energy demand work?
Of course! Access to reliable electricity supply will enhance productivity and efficiency in all sectors and accelerate socio-economic development. Electrification of transport sector can reduce oil import substantially and save foreign exchange while ensuring energy security. Electricity from solar and wind comes at fixed cost for 20-25 years and is free from price fluctuations.

What is your take on Saubhagya scheme?
Saubhagya scheme is a great initiative. With each household getting electricity connection, over 200 million people will be pulled out of darkness!

What proper technology should be put into use for assessment of T&D losses?
Measurement and accounting systems are still not good enough to capture the actual losses. The readings must be time-stamped so that actual energy input and output can be captured in one-time block. This is not happening, unfortunately. automated meter reading (AMR) was implemented for urban feeders under R-APDRP, which could give time-stamped readings, where better T&D loss figures may be available. At transmission level, the metering system maintain correct records. Smart metering and advanced analytics solutions could improve the entire distribution operations.

How do you eliminate the use of defective meters that causes inaccuracy in energy auditing?
There are millions of old electromechanical meters still in use in many states. Even electronic meters installed in the last 10-15 years are read manually. There is hue and cry about the cost of meters. Instead of pushing for low cost energy meters and utilities, customers should advocate for high quality meters, rather than cheap meters.

For proper utilisation of this investment, which issues need to be looked into?
The new trend of reverse auction for procurement by utilities is has intense negative effect. That must be stopped. Otherwise, utilities will continue to buy substandard equipment from the lowest bidder through reverse auction that will fail in no time.

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