By Sundar Rao

To accomplish this task, many policy initiatives have been introduced by the government, particularly in the form of power reforms such as deregulation, The Electricity Act 2003, APDRP (Accelerated Power Development Reforms Programme), RGGY (Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification scheme). As per CEA (Central Electricity Authority) regulation 2006, all new meter installations must use electronic meters; electromechanical meters are only acceptable in the case of replacements.

Today the Indian metering scene is a transformed one where a meter is not just looked upon as a dumb and stand alone device that provides information on consumption only, but as a smart and net-workable product that generates multipurpose data that can be used by various stakeholders like utilities, regulators, planners and consumers.

These smart capabilities of modern electronic meters are being fully exploited by the Indian power sector, which is deploying them in two major areas – consumer metering, and meters for system improvement. According to the CEA, meters deployed in India are of three types: interface meters, consumer meters and energy accounting and audit meters.

Interface meters mean a meter used for accounting and billing of electricity, connected at the point of intersection between electrical systems (interstate or intrastate transmission grids) of generating company, licensee and consumers. These meters have to be ABT (Availability Based Tariff) type. ABT describes a tariff structure based on availability of generating units and having components, viz, capacity charges, energy charges or variable charges, as well as charges for unscheduled interchange.

To cater to this wide spectrum of requirements, the electronic meters available in the Indian market are rich in functions and features. Almost all consumer meters, be they single phase for residential or polyphase for C&I applications, offer features like multiparameter display, tamper detection, indication and recording, AMR interface, and optical ports for local downloading of meter data. High-end meters support time-of-use (TOU), multi-tariff, and load survey functions. These meters can generate and store data at regular preprogrammable intervals.

At present most of the meters support manufacturer-specific proprietary protocols. However this scene is changing, with strong demand from system integrators and utilities for the adoption of open protocols at the meter end, facilitating a true AMR environment which is capable of reading multi-vendor meters from a single application loaded at the base computer station.

The majority of the AMR implementations are based on GSM/ GPRS/RF wireless technologies, and in wired networks leased lines are popular. PLC or BPL is yet to be tried for a large-scale implementation. Fibre optic backbone is extensively deployed for data high ways.

Apart from the above, other metering technologies like prepayment are being seriously considered. Driven by the regulatory demands for information at regular intervals, as well as providing good customer care and improved system performance by reduction of AT&C losses through online monitoring, AMR/AMI deployments – including a demand side management feature for energy conservation – are being contemplated in a big way.

Much has been talked and written about the issue of electricity theft in India, but in fact it is aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, currently averaging around 34%, that are posing a major challenge. The APDRP has a target to reduce this figure to 15% by 2012.

The real challenge in the establishment of a true AMR/AMI environment lies in overcoming the current issues on interoperability of meters at the consumer endpoints by adopting open protocols like MODBUS, DLMS etc. The biggest challenge is thus how to migrate from a proprietary domain to an open domain, and to develop a suitable road map that guarantees investment protection, vendor independence and a seamless migration path. This will only be possible with the active and committed participation of all the stakeholders – utilities, regulators, meter manufacturers, system integrators, government agencies and consumers.