Transforming electricity distribution
India is the world’s third-largest producer of electricity, after China and the US. Even as demand grows some 10 per cent a year, the country is on track to produce more power than it consumes. Yet power outages are a way of life for the average Indian. Many Indians have limited or no access to electricity. Why?
One reason is, Indian utilities grapple with so-called “non-technical losses,” which include electricity theft, meter tampering and non-payment by customers. These losses have a huge impact on the utilities’ profitability, service predictability, and operations performance. Tangles of wires atop electricity poles criss-cross India’s villages and cities, stealing power.
It is estimated that India loses approximately $16.2 billion a year just through electricity theft. This is the highest total loss to theft in the world. Several Indian States are now strengthening vigilance against power theft. With the Centre’s focus on boosting energy output through programmes such as National Smart Grid Mission and Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojna, utilities are looking for ways to meet the growing demand while cutting losses. By adopting the Internet of Things (IoT)-based metering infrastructure, using smart meters and smart grids, utilities can make further strides toward reliable power generation and distribution in India. Smart metering pilots are underway in Kolkata, Delhi, Chandigarh, Tripura and Puducherry.
Smart meters can record electricity, water, or gas usage in homes or buildings, and send this data back to the supplier and consumer at regular intervals. Both customers and utilities benefit from real-time data on energy consumption. The instantaneous information allows the customer to make adjustments and the utility company to better manage energy consumption at peak times. For Indian utilities these technologies will be a game changer in their battle against power theft.
Tapping a wire hook directly on to the electricity line is the most prevalent form of power theft in the country. Economic implications aside, this practice is unsafe. Imagine a scenario where utilities have real-time visibility to this unmonitored consumption, and are alerted to unusually heavy demand on the grid, meter bypassing, and unaccounted-for consumption. With advanced sensor technologies and software analytics, load imbalance on the grid can easily be detected and this data is then transmitted back to the utilities.
Similarly, using smart meters, utilities can monitor households or commercial establishments that do not pay their bills and can shut down their services remotely. Another common theft technique is tampering with conventional meters to show a lower consumption reading. Smart metering infrastructure can also help utilities quickly respond to tamper events. With built-in tamper detection and protection functionalities, they have the ability to send a real-time notification to the utility when there is an attempt at tampering.
Advanced metering solutions and technologies tailored to Indian needs represent a clear path forward for Indian utilities in their transformation journey. They can provide economic benefits for both consumers and utilities, allowing providers to increase operational efficiency, reduce energy theft and avoid revenue losses, while giving customers more stable electricity service and the ability to control their usage and expenses.
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