Electricity transmission poles and cables (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

India Aims To Digitise Power Distribution By March 2019

The government plans to do away with human interface in the entire power distribution system by March 2019 to stem losses suffered by distribution companies and make them viable.

“One way is to achieve 100 percent metering of all households in the country. Of these, 90 percent will be prepaid smart meters. Payment of power supply will be through mobile,” Minister of Power and New and Renewable Energy RK Singh told reporters after a meeting with state power ministers.

Installation of easily rechargeable smart meters is in line with the government’s Saubhagya Scheme which aims to provide electricity to all households by March 31, 2019.

The mandatory installation of prepaid meters for small consumers and smart meters for large ones, with every connection in each state, will prevent corruption and increase compliance in bill payments, Singh said.

This will give poor consumers flexibility to recharge prepaid meters online through mobile phones with a small amount at any given point of time. This would also do away with the human element in meter reading, billing and recovery of the amount from consumer, and hence the corruption involved at the lowest level.
RK Singh, Minister of Power and New and Renewable Energy

Setting up smart meters is one of the operational performance parameters of Centre’s Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) scheme, a scheme launched in 2015 as the third relief package for power discoms in 12 years.

Smart meters will enable the government to reduce losses at state-owned power distribution companies which had a combined debt of Rs 4.3 lakh crore as of September 2015, according to Bloomberg data.

A bank of “smart” electric meters. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)
A bank of “smart” electric meters. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

The Smart Meter Race

Only 98,264 units or 2 percent of the target for installing smart meters above 500 kilowatt hour has been achieved in financial year 2016-17, according to data on UDAY’s website. The target was to install 48,77,484 smart meters.

Also, only 0.8 percent of the target has been met for installing smart meters above 200 kWH and up to 500 kWH. Only 1,32,451 smart meters were installed as against the target of 1,71,82,636 in FY17.

India recently entered the global smart meter race by buying five million smart meters for Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Energy Efficiency Services Ltd., the government agency responsible for running the country’s energy efficiency programmes, floated the tender for smart meters in July. The bid was won by engineering conglomerate Larsen & Toubro Ltd. which will supply 50 lakh smart meters in the two North Indian states.

EESL will procure 40 lakh smart meters for Uttar Pradesh and 10 lakh for Haryana to be installed in a phased manner over three years, it said in a statement earlier.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects 1.5 crore smart meters to be installed in India by 2020. This would, however, still be lower than some Asian peers.

Discoms will also not be allowed to pass on billing losses to consumers, Singh said. “We are discussing with the regulators that after 2019, the percentage of loss permissible to be accounted for in the tariff cannot exceed 15 percent,” he added.