Industry Analysis

Energy Meter Tampering Management through Sensing Solutions

Omron, in collaboration with Tata Power Delhi, has developed a multifunctional sensor capable of capturing all tampering attempts made with an energy meter.

Energy meters, undoubtedly, have a very important role to play in the power distribution business. As the entire revenue generation is coming out of energy recorded by an energy meter, any tampering with this contraption will directly affect the revenue generation.

We are making rapid strides in this ever dynamic digital world and so are the electricity thieves. They are using advanced instruments such as Electro Static Discharge (ESD), Jammer devices which disturb the accurate energy measurement and recording of static electronic energy meters without leaving any physical evidence on the meters.

The stakeholders have not been able to address this issue thoroughly and appropriately. Therefore, so far, there has been a struggle to come up with structured and long term solutions to identify the influence of such destructive devices along with their field strengths. This is one of the main areas of concern for all power distribution utilities in order to protect their revenue. Omron, in collaboration with Tata Power Delhi, has developed a multifunctional sensor capable of capturing all tampering attempts made with an energy meter.

Talking about the glimpses of power theft scenario across the globe, India is leading the pack with an annual loss of $16.2 billion followed by Brazil $10.5 billion and Russia $5.1 billion – the cumulative loss stands at $89.3 billion worldwide*. India is amongst top five leading electricity producers in the world; however it still faces the challenge of providing electricity to all 24 X 7. Over 300 million people still do not have access to electricity indicating a deep mismatch between demand and supply and affecting sustainable availability of electricity round the clock at the reasonable cost.

Aggregate Technical & Commercial Losses (AT&C) are one of the key causes of this parity running as high as 1.5 per cent of the country’s GDP. Power theft, forming one of the major constituents of this figure, presents an intricate challenge to the utilities who strive to find a long term solution to curb the menace.

Main reasons for Technical Losses
Overloading of existing lines and substation equipment
Absence of up gradation of old lines and equipment
Low HT: LT ratio
Poor repair and maintenance of equipment
Non-installation of capacitors for power factor correction.

Main reasons for Commercial Losses
Low metering/ billing/ collection efficiency
Absence of energy audit and accounting
Theft of electricity by illegal connection
Tampering of metering system.

Tampering issues
The meter tampering gains more significance in the urban and semi-urban areas. The tampering can be broadly divided as: Physical Tampering, and Soft Tampering.

Physical Tampering
There are numerous ways of tampering an energy meter, physically. However, we can easily identify the theft of electricity by inspecting the energy meter through the presence of physical evidence such as external shunt wires, remote or relay circuits etc.

Soft Tampering
In this kind of tampering, there will be no physical evidence inside the meter. This is done with the ESD, jammer, magnet or similar devices which are capable to stop or disturb the accurate recording of the energy meter. Till date, no direct methods are available with utilities or energy meter manufacturers across the globe to detect and manage this. Therefore, they are not able to establish theft.

The evidences available with utilities are not sufficient to prove the influence of these devices under the court of law. With the development of multifunctional anti tamper sensor, it is possible to capture and establish theft for soft tampering cases also.

Programs and activities for loss reduction
The Power Ministry has launched the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP) with focus on establishment of base line data, fixation of accountability, reduction of AT&C losses up to 15 per cent level through strengthening and up-gradation of Sub Transmission and Distribution network and adoption of Information Technology during 11th Five-Year Plan.

There are some more programs for loss reduction in India by the government. In “Smart Grid Vision and Roadmap for India” made by ISGF, the target of AT&C loss by 2022 is under 12 per cent. The government has also initiated UDAY program in 2016. UDAY aims to give incentives to DISCOMs depending on their AT&C loss ratio. According to the government and ISGF Vision & Roadmap, DISCOMs are required to reduce AT&C loss.

Another scheme is the integrated power development scheme (IPDS) for the urban areas. It focuses on smart metering and tamper-proof meters at homes.

Development of Anti-Tamper Sensor
The development of multifunctional sensor through joint efforts of Omron Japan and Tata Power Delhi is based on thorough and rigorous testing and feedback from the field on various tampering techniques and devices.

The development phase required the detailed analysis of tampering devices such as Jammer and Electro Static Discharge. The tear down analysis and wave form analysis of these destructive devices was carried out in order to understand the impact on energy meter. The efforts were also made to measure intensity of the field coming out of these devices.

A tear down analysis of each jammer device was conducted. Jammer devices output was derived and measured through oscilloscope. Electric field intensity of jammer was also analysed and compared with Indian Standards. It was found that the value of field was very high.

The same was carried out with ESD devices and also did the analysis after the teardown.

Through rigorous testing and analysis of above devices, the team finally came up with a composite sensor. This composite sensor has six sensing functionality – detection of ESD, jammer, magnet, shock, tilt and temperature:

  • ESD: Detects and records the intensity by sensing ESD directly.
  • Jammer: Detects and records the intensity by sensing electromagnetic field.
  • Magnet: Detects and records the intensity by sensing 3-axis AC/DC magnetic field.
  • Shock: Generally, meters are break-opened to make some physical tampering with the meter. In this situation, the sensor can detect the intensity of shock and records the event.
  • Tilt: Generally, meters are removed from their vertical position to make some kind of physical tampering. In this situation, the sensor can detect the angle of tilt and records the event.
  • Temperature: In case DISCOMs catch the tampering based on evidence, they ensure a penalty is made to the culprit. However, many times, people try to burn the meter to destroy the tampering evidence as the final resort. In this situation, the sensor can even detect the intensity of temperature at which the meter was burnt.

The specification of the state-of-the-art sensor for tamper management is as under:

Difference from conventional solutions

  • Magnet tampering: This technique of tampering was used earlier to slow down or stop the energy meters by saturating the metering CT used for current measurement. The conventional meters are design to run at “IMAX” as per CBIP but there are many cases are observed in which meters had logged wrong magnet event. But with this new sensor, chances of wrong logging of event are eliminated.
  • ESD and Jammer tampering: These tampers are prevalently adopted by the tamperer as these devices affect the solid state system and can even cause permanent damage to IC and EEPROM. Here, high voltage and frequencies are applied on the meter, creating an electromagnetic field. Due to this, electronic circuits get affected and accurate energy recording process is affected. In conventional methods of sensing, metering experts use indirect methods such as power supply conditions, the microcontroller behavior or combination of various conditions to record an event to ascertain the influence of external ESD/jammer devices. But these conventional techniques are not sure shot techniques. With this sensor the chances of wrong logging of these events is eliminated.
  • Shock and Tilt: No sensor is present in conventional meters for shock and tilt – and so this can be used as support evidence to establish physical tampering.
  • Integration and credibility
    The sensor’s integration in the meter is done with Genus. The energy meter is tested by third-party ERDA for credibility of tamper event logging. The event logging with influencing filed strengths are checked and verified by ERDA. The snapshots of event logging at ERDA is as under:

    One of the notable features is its ability to detect ESD and jammer tampering which are considered to be non-detectable. The sensor not only detects but also measures the value of tampering. It can also save the tampering log reliably even if the environment has lot of noise emanated from the tampering jig.

    Electricity theft in India is a grave and critical social issue. This article explains how anti-tamper sensor can be utilised as an ideal total solution to monitor electricity theft effectively by contributing towards the management of meter tampering.

    *Source: Emerging Market Smart Grid: Outlook 2015 study by Northeast Group LLC.

    Authored by__

    Manoj Kodakkatery and Kurmarao Bavisetti – Energy Business Development Team, Omron Electronic & Mechanical Components Business, India

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