Meter development trends in India

The Indian subcontinent is one of the biggest markets for many products, essentially due to its large population. Due to the strong growth of the Indian economy over the past few years consumer appetite has grown enormously for electrical products and other white goods, and hitherto untapped rural markets are being aggressively pursued by these and other sectors.

This is giving rise to a growing demand for electrical power distribution in the rural and semi-urban areas, and as a result local distribution companies (discoms) are expanding their networks to meet this demand.This in turn is translating into more power connections to consumers and with these, an increasing demand for effective and efficient electrical energy metering. At the same time the discoms are involved in replacing the older electromechanical meters (Ferrari type) with electronic meters, in order to improve their revenue generation model.

Thus there is huge market potential for electronic meters in India currently. For example a local discom has issued one tender for 0.75 million single phase meters. There are four such discoms in the state where the author resides – and there are 29 states and six union territories (directly under central government) across India.

Almost all the discoms follow standard requirements for single phase static energy meters. Thus it is an opportune time for ASIC manufacturers to review and develop the market. For example there is a need to properly integrate the ASIC outputs to a microcontroller to achieve the desired outputs. Properly developed firmware in modular format is also required, so that the local energy meter manufacturers are able to meet the changing needs and specifications of the discoms.

This would also ensure that the cost of meters would come down substantially, as each manufacturer would not need to spend their time and money on these R&D efforts.

The following manufacturers and/ or suppliers have potential for their products in India:

  • ASIC manufacturers
  • Microcontroller manufacturers
  • Embedded software developers
  • LCD manufacturers
  • Plastic parts manufacturers
  • Li-ion battery manufacturers
  • Shunt manufacturers
  • Current transformer manufacturers.
  • From this list, the plastic parts and CT manufacturers are well developed and established in India. However, there is scope for the other manufacturers to enter the market in a systematic way.

Current transformer manufacturing

The Indian energy metering scene is on a rapid growth path. Hence the need for transducers such as current transformers (CTs) and shunts is high. However, despite the market potential, margins are under severe pressure, due to the high level of competition among the CT manufacturers. The core materials used for CTs are described below.

Whole current metering

  • Ferrite core material N41 grade of Epcos or equivalent, which gives the DC compatibility for pulsating DC currents, i.e. Imax/v2. As the ferrite cores are very low cost and serve for the low end metering application of class 1 accuracy, they are used up to an Imax of 60 A. However, they are bulky and heavy to use.
  • For 60 A and above 100 A the use of cobalt-based amorphous cores is in vogue, but the requirements for these are not as high as for ferrite core CTs.
  • Mu-metal cores are also used for high current metering, especially if the end user does not require DC compatibility. 

CT operated meters

  • Within this category the mu-metal core CTs are most commonly used, although currently nano-crystalline core CTs are replacing the mumetal cores, due to their better performance under certain circumstances, especially for 0.2 class accuracy metering.
  • Hall sensor-based CTs are also made for specific applications, including DC power metering, but in very small numbers.

Another peculiarity to the Indian energy metering sector is that all CTs must be shielded to protect them from electromagnetic interference. Hence the CTs are built into a magnetic cup or shield. Furthermore power supply utilities seek a special CT which functions as a power source when the meter is tampered, known as a power CT or neutral disconnect CT.

The Indian CT manufacturing industry is currently very vibrant and sourcing from this part of the globe could be advantageous, due to the inherent low cost of production. Many special export zones have been created by the central and local state governments in order to encourage exports, and manufacturing units can be readily established by the local industry in these zones to provide competitive support foreign buyers.