By Professor Awadhesh Kumar Singh
Power distribution in India is finally getting the attention that it deserves. It is now acknowledged by all that in order to make the power sector viable and attractive for investment, it is mandatory to carry out distribution reforms. Today Energy Auditing and Accounting have become the buzz-words in the Indian power sector. According to a report by the Power Finance Corporation, 22 states have achieved 100% metering at the 11 kV feeder level, while nine states have metered all of their consumers. According to the report, on a national basis, 96% of the 11 kV feeder lines were metered in 2005-2006 as against 68% in 2000-2001. For the consumer lines, the corresponding figures are 92% and 75%.
The energy meter is an interface between the power distribution utility and the consumer. As observed in the recent past, particularly in the national capital, consumers have generally been apprehensive about the credibility of metering. Looking at the other side of the coin, energy meters are the cash registers of the utilities. When they don’t function properly, the utilities lose money. When they are fiddled or tampered with, the utilities lose money again. As a matter of fact, metering technology is being deployed today to drive management change in utilities, where better accountability for AT&C losses is the need of the hour.
In the initial phase of the power sector reforms in India, the power utilities (the erstwhile SEBs) were caught in a vicious circle. Most of them were so cash-strapped they simply did not have the money to invest in better meters. They were losing money because of meters that were easy to tamper with. But they could not afford to install tamper-proof or tamper-evident meters. Fortunately a major paradigm shift has taken place in the intervening period and they have broken away from this vicious circle thanks to agencies like the World Bank and the Power Finance Corporation. Most of the power distribution utilities (DISCOMs) today have switched over or are switching over from old electro-mechanical Ferraris wheel meters to micro-processor based electronic meters and in most cases, the new electronic meters pay for themselves in days and months, not years. This switch-over has yielded handsome benefits to the utilities in terms of increased revenues and there have been instances where the billing for consumers has increased by as much as 40%.
Today, metering is viewed as a total system solution rather than only a measuring device. Metering systems are required to address the two key concerns that the Indian power sector is faced with: high technical and commercial losses, and the everincreasing demand-supply gap or peaking shortages. In view of this, it is quite appropriate that metering is being viewed as an IT-enabled complete distribution management system. Utilities and distribution companies in India are exhibiting keen interest in building IT infrastructure for data warehousing of metering information which could be used for carrying out energy audits at feeder and distribution transformer level. Metering information could also be used for revenue protection, tariff formulation, implementation of time of day tariffs for demand side management etc.
Advanced metering technologies such as automatic meter reading, prepayment metering and internet usage enhancing customer relationship management, etc have generated immense interest in utilities, while simultaneously throwing challenges to energy meter manufacturers and service providers.