Smart Metering for Smart Monitoring

The better outage management increased remote monitoring on power losses and controlling them and accurate billing are most important advantages of smart meters using AMI. Smart meter has a great role in smart grid and is considered as most important for future energy management...

Three Phase Energy Meter; Picture Courtesy: www.linyang.com

The Government of India’s initiatives like ‘Make in India’ and ‘Smart Cities’ need the efficient, reliable and continuous power supply. India’s power sector in the present day is facing a lot of problems like AT & C losses, inefficient distribution and transmission system because of age old infrastructure and power theft. The advanced energy management and increased use of renewable energy resources are the foremost areas to concentrate by governments for the development of country. The government cannot take initiatives for complete change of electrical equipment across the country but there is a need for changing the way of operation and control of the electrical equipment.

Energy meters are a key component of a power supply system and play a significant role in revenue protection, quality control, compliance with regulatory requirements, consumer satisfaction and image building. Energy meter measures the amount of electrical energy consumed by a domestic consumer or a commercial consumer. There are basically two different types of energy meter, namely electromechanical type energy meter and electronic energy meter. The present billing systems have many problems like problem of payment collection, energy thefts, quality of photographs that is printed on bill etc. due to which the traditional billing system is slow, costly and unreliable. The present billing system has chances of error and it is also time consuming. In the existing meter system, consumers are presented with usage information only once a month with their bill.

A smart energy meter is typically electronic equipment that record and store consumption data of energy in intervals of an hour, minute or less and communicates that information at least daily back to the utility for monitoring and billing purposes. Smart meters enable two-way communication between the meter and the central system. Unlike home energy monitors, smart meters can gather data for remote reporting. The smart meter is very important constituent for smart grid and is expected to provide cost-effective, social and ecological advantages for various stakeholders. The most significant key factors that determines the success of the smart meters is data analysis that deals with data acquisition, communication, processing and elucidation that benefits to consumer, utility company and government.

The role of metering in the power sector is growing in importance. A complete metering system is imperative for improving the financial health of the power distribution companies. Inadequate and faulty metering has led to lower revenue and higher losses. Besides helping distribution utilities in managing revenues, meters have become a key source of valuable consumer information. Advance metering infrastructure, automated meter reading, pre-paid meters and net meters are the key technologies of smart metering being adopted. These meters allow a two-way exchange of information, automated processes such as meter reading, and enabling accounting of the electricity drawn from the grid by a consumer. This has helped in improving metering efficiency, billing accuracy, revenue management and consumer satisfaction.

Government Initiatives

Electricity Act, 2003 mandated distribution utilities for supply electricity to all the consumers, within stipulated time, through installation of a correct meter in accordance with regulations to be made in this behalf by the Central Electricity Authority. Over the last one and half decade, utilities have invested significantly in improving metering coverage in order to reduce their aggregate technical and commercial losses. Most of the states have achieved 100 percent metering for domestic, commercial and industrial consumers. However, some distribution companies are yet to electrify all the house-holds in their regions and a large number of consumers, therefore, still remain unmetered in their states. With respect to feeder and distribution transformer metering, a large number of these remain to be metered and there is significant scope for improvement.

Metering in India received a major boost under the government’s flagship scheme for AT&C loss reduction, the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Program which was rolled out in 2007. The government through various policies such as the Integrated Power Development Scheme, the Deendayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana and UDAY is aiming at 100 percent metering in the country.

One of the commitments under UDAY is to make the installation of smart meters compulsory for all consumers using more than 200 kWh of electricity per month. UDAY envisages fast track roll out of 35 million smart meters by the end of 2019. The target is to install smart meters for consumers with a monthly consumption of 500 kWh and above in first phase by 31st December’ 2017 and the consumers with a monthly consumption of 200 kWh and above in second phase by December’ 2019. UDAY also provides for compulsory feeder and Distribution Transformer metering, consumer indexing and GIS mapping.
The Integrated Power Development Scheme targets the installation of around six million meters at the consumer, feeder and Distribution Transformer levels. The Deendayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana with its focus on rural electrification, also target the installation of around 12 million meters at the consumer, Distribution Transformer and agricultural feeder levels. These schemes are also expected to provide significant opportunities for meter manufacturers. Under UDAY, awareness campaigns are also being organized to improve collection efficiency.

Need of Smart Metering

The smart meter is future for power industry and serves as an interface between consumer and the utility company. The smart meter records the power usage of consumer and communicates this data in a timely manner to utility center. For smart meter, it is very essential to collect precise and appropriate data in a timely manner which includes gathering of data, its communication and storage. The smart meter allows the bi-directional flow of information from consumer to utility and vice versa. The systematic analysis from the data acquired will lead to many prospective decisions by utility center that assures the efficiency and reliability of smart grid. This allows the utility center for better monitoring and control. The data communication in real time basis allows the utilities with advantages like real time pricing, outage detection, identification of power theft, avoids meter data tampering and provides better service. With the data received in timely manner utilities shall have a better opportunity to work better with increased stability.

Smart meters can definitely cut the domestic or commercial energy consumption by giving a lot of useful information to the consumer, but this information is useful only if consumer looks into it. Smart meter gives best home energy management solutions for smart homes using wireless technologies like. Several sensor and actuators based appliances are commissioned in smart buildings to manage the connection of electrical load remotely based on the consumer choice or utility decisions envisaging the necessity of the smart meter.

Smart metering is also essential for strengthening the power distribution segment. Efficient metering practices help to maintain the financial health of a utility. These include accurate billing and prevention of power theft, which have been the focus areas for utilities. These practices also help in lowering aggregate technical and commercial losses of the utilities. Transition from electromechanical meters to electrostatic meters was one of the first step towards improving consumer metering.

Smart Metering Practices

Now the utilities are adopting smart metering, prepaid metering, net metering etc. and focusing in meter data analysis. Some of the new and smart metering practices being adopted by utilities are as follows:

i. AMR and AMI Metering

Automated Meter Reading is being adopted as it provides advanced capabilities like outage management, data analytics, tamper detection and network management to utilities. Meter data management and analytics are also developed by utilities for enhanced customer services, theft detection and power quality monitoring, better understanding of consumption patterns and energy efficiency.

The idea of smart grid increases the efficiency of power usage by the introduction of bi-directional flow of information from utilities to consumer and vice-versa. This can be possible by the introduction of ‘Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)’. The information about electrical consumption of a consumer is recorded in a timely manner and this data is aggregated and analyzed by ‘smart meter’ installed at consumer premises. The analyzed data is communicated to utilities using AMI. Smart grid using smart metering and AMI technologies establishes the wide area monitoring, protection and control.

AMI adoption is likely to accelerate further, as such system provide a vast range of facilities like load management and outage handling, remote meter reading, remote connecting and disconnecting as well automated and timely billing.

ii. Net Metering

There is a growing focus on solar rooftop projects in the country. With the rapid growth of the rooftop solar segment and the ambitious targets set by the government for this segment, net metering assumes a critical role. It is necessary for the discoms to provide net metering facilities to consumers, which allow the consumer to feed electricity into the grid. To this end, the regulators have issued net metering policies or regulations. This presents a major opportunity for manufacturers of bi-directional meters that track the energy consumed and generated by consumers, and enable net billing. In order to meet the target set by the government for rooftop solar, the adoption of net meters is likely to increase further in the coming years.

iii. Prepaid Metering

Prepaid meters operate on a no use no pay principle, wherein consumers pay for their electricity consumption in advance. It improves collection efficiency, reduces working capital requirements for utilities and provides greater flexibility to consumers while budgeting consumption. In prepaid metering, the meter manufacturer provides meters with prepaid billing software based on the tariff set by the utility. Most of the states have developed prepaid meters, but the development has been limited to selected consumers segments. It is used for temporary connections as well as in areas where utilities face uncertainty of payment.

The cost of three phase prepaid meters is more than three to four times the cost of an ordinary meter. Utilities are required to overcome the cost hurdle through rental payments and regulators are required to allow utilities to collect rental charges from consumers for prepaid metering.

iv. ToD (Time of Day) Metering

Pricing Time of Day metering is a billing method in which depending on the expected load on the grid, a billing day is divided into several time zones. The duration of each time zone is programmable and the user can define the time zones as per his requirements. The meter records the energy consumed in different time zones in separate registers and exhibits accordingly. Consumption in each of the time zone is charged at different rates. The tariff rates for different time zones are fixed in such a way that a consumer pays more for energy used during peak hours than for off peak hours. It becomes the responsibility of the consumer to either restrict his energy usage or pay accordingly. This encourages consumers to shift load during cheaper time periods of the day.

Limitations of Smart Meter

While the development of new smart metering technologies has increased, it is still slow, owing to the lack of adequate infrastructure with the utilities and their poor financial health. Some of the limitations for development of smart metering practices are as follows:

i. One of the challenges in the adoption of smart meters is their high cost. Besides, there is a lack of clarity as to who will bear the cost burden.
ii. There is need to develop checks and standards for smart meters. Along with laboratory testing of meters to check for their compliance, it is important for the utilities to undertake checks for performance and reliability.
iii. A key consideration in the adoption of smart meters is the identification of the target consumers group to accordingly undertake meter modifications.
iv. A key concern for utilities is lack of efficient communication technologies. While distribution networks are often not capable of managing power line communication, RF communication finds limited uptake owing to a number of geographical limitations.
v. There is also a lack of a mechanism for the testing of communication technology for meters. In automatic meter reading for feeders and high tension consumers, where meter reading is undertaken through modems, there are lot issues with the service providers/ telecom players.
vi. Other limitations in the adoption of new metering technology includes disposal of old meters. The utilities have been grappling with the issue since the time electrostatic meters replaced electromechanical meters.
vii. In order to promote the adoption of rooftop solar, bidirectional meters are needed. There are certain techno economic challenges impeding the rooftop solar projects like high investment, tariff slabs for bay-back of power, operation hours of rooftop plant etc.
viii. There are however significant infrastructural development and capacity building issues which need to be addressed before planning a large-scale implementation of the smart metering projects.
ix. Given to uncertain demand of net meters, it is not in interest of the discom to maintain a stock of high-costing net meters at its end. However, making supplying sufficiently net meters available in a timely manner is a challenge.
x. Lack of consumer awareness on Smart Grid concepts, such as how they will be benefited through smart metering.
xi. Insufficient regulatory focus and policy on smart metering; and lack of system modification to enable the benefits of existing intellectual meter.

Way Forward

Unless the above issues are addressed properly, large-scale investment for smart metering will be an additional burden without realizing the benefits of revenue enhancement. The policy makers and regulators have to implement a robust incentive model framework to attract more and more private investments assuring the rate of return.

Also there is need for bringing in metering as a service, wherein a technology provider extends the metering facility to the utility and the latter makes payments for the services availed of. This would relief the utility of the cost and risks involved in the implementation of new metering technology. Once the new technology has been successfully operated in its distribution area, the utility can deploy the technology on its own.

The implementation of projects on a turnkey basis by meter manufacturers will help overcome issues of interoperability and compatibility between communication technology and metering infrastructure. Besides, in order to keep pace with emerging technologies in a cost effective manner, it is required to develop universal meters which could be upgraded to new technology merely by updating the software.

For covering all the consumers to provide smart meters in next five years, the massive investment required for distribution companies those are suffering poor financial condition. In order to overcome this problem, financial institution like PFC and other nationalized banks would buy smart meters and communication devices from manufacturers and lease them to discoms against a monthly rent for a particular period. Implementation agencies should also be appointed which would be responsible for the overall implementation and maintenance of AMI.

Development of domestic capacity to produce meter components can go a long way in reducing per meter costs for the country. Quality meters at competitive prices, consumer awareness, deployment of new technology and adequate maintenance of metering infrastructure should be the key focus areas for utilities.

Conclusion

The main objective of smart meters is for assuring the systematic energy management with the active participation of end user by coordinating utility companies in making intelligent decisions. The smart grid will enhance the stability and reliability of power systems using AMI technologies. The better outage management increased remote monitoring on power losses and controlling them and accurate billing are most important advantages of smart meters using AMI. Smart meter has a great role in smart grid and is considered as most important for future energy management.


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