An approach to Utility Metering in India
A. Raja Rao, Director, Anusha Associates
Electricity System Restructuring in India has been
going on for over a decade now. Progress has been
slow and the initial primary objective of attracting
private capital into the electricity supply industry
has had only minor success. Other objectives such
as breaking down the vertically integrated structure
of the industry, corporatization, privatization, formation
of independent regulatory bodies etc have however
made better progress. Utilities continue to remain
financially weak and are therefore not attracting
private capital. A comprehensive legislation at the
central level, The Electricity Act 2003, is now over
a year old and has yet to make itself felt. The central
and state governments are finding that the electricity
supply industry is likely to be the major drag in
the growth of the country’s economy and are
finding themselves increasingly involved in finding
ways of solving the problems facing the industry.
‘Automatic Meter Reading’ if looked
at in a different light could help substantially and
create confidence in the industry. The approach may
be applicable to countries similarly placed like India.
The issues to be considered include:
- Losses in the transmission and distribution systems
have been estimated to be up to 50% and the utilities
do not seem to be able to get a proper and reliable
figure, in the absence of which meaningful steps
cannot be taken. There is a dire need to get a handle
on the extent and causes of these losses.
- Agricultural consumers in some states consume
up to 40% of all electricity. This electricity has
to be supplied at low prices, much below cost. Who
will bear the difference –is it the state
government, the utility, other categories of consumer
(cross subsidy) – the debate goes on.
- The penetration of AMR even in the US market
is estimated at less than 20%. In India there are
no significant penetrations and data is not available.
- Utility managers are coming to realize that they
could do with some innovative tariff approaches,
but find that the metering systems in place does
not permit them to do so.
- Lack of adequate investment during the last few
years has created increasing shortages of peaking
capacity as well as energy. Interruptions in supply
are increasing all over the country. No one is really
quantifying the interruptions. There needs to be
an outage information system in place.
- There is tremendous pressure to utilize the existing
infrastructure to the limits both in terms of peak
load and also energy.
- There are some categories of customer who do
not want to be metered and are able to use their
political clout to avoid getting metered. Notable
in this category are the agricultural and rural
consumers. Some of these ‘poor’ consumers
get supply on a flat tariff basis without a meter
and are supposed to use a single light bulb, but
misuse the facility.
- The size of the Indian Electricity supply industry
is large enough to warrant consideration of a communication
system exclusively for use in metering alone. A
recent study by EPRI of USA considers a massive
communication system overlaying the Power System
solely for the purpose of ‘intelligently’
controlling and monitoring the power grid. A communication
system such as the one for metering alone could
very well be integrated into such a system. In particular
with the rapid advance of wireless communications
it would seem that such a concept is very much feasible.
- Above all the cost of metering should be brought
down drastically and it should be possible to use
metering even for small consumers who consume even
only 100 units in a year.
- It should be possible to install such a metering
system ‘outside’ the consumer’s
premises and the consumer need not know that he
is being metered. He also need not necessarily have
access to his meter reading on a continuous basis
as is now possible with a meter on his premises
which also gives a reading. This concept parallels
the ‘telecom’ concept where the consumer
trusts the service provider to give him a proper
bill for his usage.
Based on the foregoing it would seem that a metering
system on the following lines would ‘fit’
- The meter should be a sealed type unit which
could be ‘hung’ from the power line
outside a consumer’s premises.
- It should have communication facility (wireless?),
using which it communicates its readings once in
half an hour to a concentrator, which is located
near or on the distribution transformer, which is
feeding that consumer. All consumers connected to
that distribution transformer would have a similar
facility. Each distribution transformer would act
as a ‘cell’ and there would be as many
cells as there are distribution transformers. (Additionally
other parameters such as voltage values could also
be transmitted as and when it is necessary to do
so for ‘outage’ purposes.)
- The concentrator at the distribution transformer
would communicate with the utility office using
an optimal communication system and the meter readings
from all the consumer meters would be used by the
utility to generate all necessary information based
on ‘the half hour kwh’ and other readings.
Powerful software would be required at the utility
for this purpose and the following analysis/information
could easily be generated.
- Billing information.
- Loading data on the distribution transformer.
- ‘Loss’ in the network supplied
by the distribution transformer. This could
be aggregated over the whole of the utility’s
- Outage information including time of outage,
location of outage, duration of outage and all
- Analysis of consumer usage to generate ideas
- Voltage values at the consumer premises giving
an idea of the design of the distribution network.
- If considered essential a display unit could
also be fitted in the consumer’s premises,
which displays his meter reading.
- It would seem from the foregoing that a one-way
communication from the meter to the utility would
suffice. A two-way communication facility would
of course give additional benefits.
- The key to the whole concept is how the cost
can be kept low. A possible target figure would
seem to be an average of $ 25 for a typical domestic
or rural consumer connection. Developments in wireless
technologies such as RFID give hope that such a
target would be achievable. The sooner the better.
How big is the market?
The total number of consumers in India exceed 120
million of which domestic consumers would be in excess
of 90 million, Agricultural consumers would be in
excess of 14 million. Total number of distribution
transformers about 1.9 million.
|I would like to
address your Item 3 points.
A: Billing infomration - Yes, obviously if
your going to bill actual usage to the end user,
a metering point is required. B: Loading info
on the transformer might be easier and more
econmically served with a meter at the transformer
- or via sampeling techiques C: Knowing loading
on the transformer - loss could be calculated
using standard curves, or again via sampeling
techniques D: Smart meters can provide outage
info. However, other dedicated outage detection
devices work well also. E: Analysis of consumer
usage. Sampeling techniques are widely used
to do this. In fact most rate cases in the US
are based on these techniques, which at issue
are hundreds of millions of $ in rates. F: Like
B, voltage measurement at the end point may
not be needed in 99% of cases. You can ascertain
most of your voltages from centralized distribution
points which are much easier to attain than
at the end point and model the end point voltage.
G: In the US where the meter is located (typically)
in a readily available location at the customer
premise, the meter display has worked well for
Finally, not knowing the full utility infrastructure
of India, I ask: Why not a telephone based system
- one that shares the customers telephone line?
|A. Raja Rao
|I agree with Mr
Allen Morgan that there are alternate ways of
doing things. But, I wanted to highlight that
if an economical way could be found to treat the
distribution transformer as a 'cell' then so many
issues could be resolved in one go. In respect
of 'telephone based system' the telephone penetration
in India is small in comparison to the number
of households which have electricity. I would
again like to ask the question - Why is it necessary
for a 'electricity' consumer to be able to see
his meter reading at all times when a similar
necessity is not manifest in respect of the telecom
usage of a consumer whether he is in the USA or
|P M Dekker
|Raja, Have you
considered using the transmission wires themselves
as the communication pathway for your metering?
simply add your communication system using higher
frequency transmission. This is currently being
tested in Ohio, where access to cable TV systems
is limited. Sincerely, P M Dekker www.geni.org