Where Did the Need Of Smart Meters Come From?
An electricity distribution company in India is known as discom. These discoms are companies that do not generate electricity themselves; instead they supply it to others by buying it from elsewhere. These discoms had to face a harsh loss of over INR 28,000 crore in 2019. Inefficiency in the process of bill generation, low payment rates and electricity theft a.k.a. cutting the power supply at a physical point and mending it in a way that it reaches households that might not have electricity are top-tier problems contributing to this loss. This has obviously taken a toll on the financial well-being of discoms thereby forcing them to look for new alternatives that help defeat these loss-incurring problems.
In today’s day and age, a digital alternative is best suited to provide for the drawbacks of conventional means. Currently, our bills are generated by meter-readers. This system has allowed multiple loopholes to exist. A few state governments permitted discoms to charge their consumers on the basis of their past meter readings during COVID-19. This can’t work as more power is used during summers, thereby not meeting the financial ends of these companies as the consumers would be paying lesser. The digital alternative to conventional meters, known as smart meters, can help overcome these setbacks.
How Are Smart Meters Different?
• Discoms have faith that smart meters can help eliminate a few loss-incurring problems:
• People can’t bribe the meter-readers into paying lesser than the actual bill since smart meters do the reading and bill generation themselves, thus avoiding under-billing and under-payments.
• Electricity theft can also be caught easily since smart meters have a pretty tamper-proof system.
• A conventional meter doesn’t keep a record of electricity consumption on a continuous basis, whereas a smart meter does.
• Smart meters help discoms study electricity usage of their consumers at different hours of the day at every 15 minute-interval. This helps the discoms to understand the increase and decrease in demand as per different seasons and allows them to sanction supply accordingly.
• Power cuts and load-shredding, which happen the most during summers due to high consumption through ACs and coolers, can be brought to the bare minimum through this.
• This continuous recording also helps the consumers understand their electricity consumption which is important because consumers often under-estimate their consumption and are sceptical about overpricing towards discoms. Smart meters have made this understanding possible for consumers through mobile apps.
• The most attractive advantage that smart meters bring to the table is cost-cutting for the long run
• Their installation, while being expensive, is a one-time investment towards a lot more savings than under conventional meters.
• Smart meters allow discoms to purchase cheaper electricity from real-time markets. This, in turn, not only benefits discoms but also consumers as it provides a relief from the always-increasing power tariffs (taxes).
• A certain data showed that many families have to deal with either very high or very low voltage supply, which is a concerning issue as it endangers appliance health and protection.
• This data was collected via a pilot (test) study of smart meters conducted by researchers at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) in 100 households of Bareilly and Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. It also showed that certain houses experience power cuts on an average of 2 hours per day.
• The monitoring of power outages and voltage fluctuations is possible for discoms under smart meters, which enables smooth functioning of power supply and helps avoid consumer complaints since the problem is directly informed to the discoms through smart meters.
Is India Ready For Smart Meters?
The answer is a 50% yes and a 50% no. We realise that smart meters bring a lot of reformations to the table. However, the value of these reformations would only depend on how the smart meter infrastructure is installed and how it is deployed, operated and used.
The pilot study conducted by the CEEW, while showing us certain advantages, also showed us a few drawbacks of using smart meters. The development of a smart meter is a complex operation hence it faces a few problems. There is a possibility of data loss because of gaps between the networks. Ensuring consumer trust in this new coming-of-age meter reading will take a long time as it is a new technology and consumers might face a hard time accepting that.
The setting up or the installation of smart meter infrastructure is far more expensive than of traditional meter infrastructure. The current rate is INR 100 per meter/month which discoms need to pay to the Energy Efficiency Services Ltd. (EESL). EESL is an agency that deals with the implementation of smart meters via a model of leasing.
For smart meters to truly work, huge institutional changes need to be brought in discoms. Along with this, various research and development programs and skill-enabling programs need to be held on a regular basis across all verticals and managerial levels in discoms. Consumer awareness programs where consumers are briefed about the working of smart meters should also be conducted. These will enable a sense of trust and help the smoother implementation of smart meter infrastructure.
Digitalization is the new wave of development and smart meters look like a step in the right direction. We hope to see India shine with more and more of such developments and witness a shift in our lifestyles!