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Equipment | June 2011

Innovation in metering

Prepaid metering can help consumers understand their electricity consumption resulting in energy conservation and enabling utilities for demand side management, say Madhur KR Srivastava and Swati Doshi.

Metering plays a vital role in the electricity distribution system in terms of monitoring and recording the energy generated and energy consumed.

For commercial use of electrical energy in the 1880s, it became increasingly important that an electrical energy meter, similar to the then existing gas meters, should properly bill customers for the cost of energy, instead of billing for a fixed number of lamps per month. Many experimental types of meters were developed and in 1894, the first AC kilowatt-hour electromechanical meter was developed. Since these meters only show the consumption in units and not other electrical meters, there was need for a meter that can show other electrical parameters as well. A new electronic meter was developed, which provided many other parameters as well but there was also need for more information related to theft, instantaneous parameters, load-profiling, etc.

This led to a new chapter of static metering with memory to record the required parameters, communication capabilities, read and store data, etc. The advent of static meters resulted in new methods of data collection, efficient monitoring and tracking of metering assets.

India has an installed base of over 100 million energy meters in view of the requirement for reduction in aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses and load and demand management applications.

In the current scenario, involvement of consumers too is required and they need to understand their consumption patterns and control them with minimal impact on their lifestyle. Utilities, on the other hand, need to be able to effectively manage their loads and reduce opportunities for electricity theft, while keeping total lifecycle costs down, preserving the value of their existing investments and recognising the importance of ongoing standardisation activities.

To meet these parameters, the most suitable and cost-effective metering solution is a prepaid metering system in which the consumer has a new kind of electricity meter that is connected to an in-home display unit and has an inbuilt disconnect device. The consumer buys electricity in advance by purchasing recharge vouchers from an electricity vending office and the voucher number can be entered using the keypad of the meter or in-home device. When the consumer has used energy and the credit has been exhausted, the meter automatically disconnects the supply after giving a visual and audible alarm. The system is intelligent and programmed not to disconnect supply over the weekends and public holidays. The consumer can reconnect by simply buying more electricity and recharging the meter.

Prepaid metering is one such mechanism that can help consumers understand their consumption, resulting in energy conservation and enabling utilities for demand-side management. The system provides real-time information in terms of money and is load-connected, which attracts the consumer's attention and leads towards their in-depth involvement into the system. Benefits achieved by utilities are in controlling load or demand vis-à-vis reduction in consumption and increased or better revenue cycles and efficiency. Over 100,000 prepaid meters have been installed all over the country and are running successfully in various utilities. The real estate industry too has recognised the benefits of prepaid metering and many companies are installing these as they roll out projects across the country. Prepaid metering has been a preferred choice for most builders since they don't have to chase for their payments and customers are happy to have complete control over their connection and disconnection.

Geographically, prepaid meters have been deployed across the globe. South Africa and UK have deployed this system in huge volumes and with considerable success. Other countries that have adopted the system include Brunei, Argentina, USA, Poland, New Zealand, Malaysia, Israel, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kuwait, France, Bangladesh and India.

Prepaid metering is the first step towards smart metering or advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) for distribution companies as it has many of the features of smart meters such as connection or disconnection, communication, etc. This also involves all stakeholders and prepares them to meet the requirements to handle the next level of the metering system, which requires a proactive approach in providing information to each stakeholder in advance, keeping revenue and better consumer support in consideration.

To further modernise the electricity grid as the same is an essential component, smart grid is the approach towards achieving the same. It also helps manage the demand and supply gap, peak load, etc. The smart grid includes automation from generation to transmission and from distribution to the consumer. The core of the smart grid in the distribution segment relates to smart metering or AMI.

The need for smart metering in India is its trend towards the increased use of renewables and bi-directional information flow between utilities and consumers. India will greatly benefit from intelligent energy efficiency in the form of demand response and grid-responsive appliances.

Communication technologies are constantly evolving but the jury is still out on which will turn out to be optimal in these environments in the long run. And finally, given the complexity of these challenges, perhaps we need to give serious consideration to the concept, well-recognised elsewhere in the world, of trusted partnerships between consumers and the utility.

The journey of metering is on and there are many more technological advancements which may be required based on the needs and benefits to consumers and to utilities in getting their system robust in keeping with best consumer service and support with better revenue management.

“Smart meters are crucial for reforms in distribution sector”

At the 4th Metering India 2011 seminar organised by Indian Electrical and Electronics Manufacturers' Association (IEEMA) in New Delhi, Devender Singh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Power, in his keynote address had said, “The entire power sector value chain crucially hinges on the financial viability of the power distribution sector and metering is central to reforms in this sector.”

Vimal Mahendru, President, IEEMA, said, “Many state regulatory commissions, supported by the Ministry of Power through various programmes, especially RGGVY and R-APDRP are insisting on 100 per cent metering of power supply. This has provided a great impetus to demand for meters. Today, the industry is producing in excess of 20 million meters in India every year. The Indian metering industry has done well to rise to this challenge and this opportunity.”

Devender Singh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Power, said, “The 13th Finance Commission report projected that in a “business as usual” scenario, the losses today are Rs 50,000 crore without subsidy. If we do not account for subsidies, then these losses are likely to balloon to Rs 116,000 crore by 2014-15. It will thus become an absolutely untenable and unsustainable situation. So to remedy the situation when we look at various options apart from R-APDRP initiatives, the most critical initiative is metering. If I may say so, metering is at the heart of electricity reforms. Nobody can believe any utility can sustain 30-40 per cent losses. Everyone is aware that energy is flowing. It is a question of bringing that energy into the revenue stream or balance sheet of the utilities. Basically, these are commercial losses. How do we account for these? Unless we have very clear accounting and auditing of energy right down to the last consumer, we cannot address this problem. For that to happen, obviously, metering is central and the key to the solution. Therefore, we do recognise that metering is the most critical component of the distribution reforms.”

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