Drake Lawhead, Conference Director, Spintelligent --- METERING.COM --- 03 December 2009 - “Electricity is a right like water and air in a civilized society,” according to Delhi’s Chief Minister Sheila Dixit in her opening remarks at Metering International’s Indian Metering, Billing/CRM conference and exhibition. Although the term ‘crisis’ was not used during the three-day event, the severity of the challenge facing India’s energy sector was never far from the surface throughout the proceedings . India is a country suffering from the growing pains of a burgeoning population and rapidly expanding economy, which has seen power demand skyrocket over the last ten years. Installed capacity is expected to have to double by 2020 to keep up with demand, and to fulfil the Government’s promise of providing ‘power for all’ by the year 2012.

But meeting this ambitious goal will not be achieved simply by building more coal power stations. Grid technologies and smart meters are changing the game for utilities, giving them real potential to increase energy efficiency through better measurement and management.

And transforming utilities with new technologies was the theme of Metering International’s three-day conference that saw over 400 delegates, including a host of kingpins of India’s electricity sector, meet to discuss the potential of these technologies. On hand were the CEOs of BSES Rajdhani and Yamuna, and NDPL – who run the majority of the capital city’s electricity distribution, public sector representatives Kapil Mohan of the Ministry of Power and Chief Energy Regulators from several of India’s populous provinces. They met with technology providers and industry experts from India and as far away as Belgium, Singapore, Japan, Egypt, Mexico, Norway, the USA and China.

India’s key program for strengthening its sub-transmission and distribution network is the Accelerated Power Development and Reform Program (APDRP), which was introduced to tackle India’s unusually high technical and commercial energy losses in its system, implement the Power for All goal, and move the country towards 100% metering. The degree of activity over the three days suggested the amount of intellectual groundwork needed for such a massive undertaking.

Best Practice
India is in a position to take advantage of best practices from around the world in AMI, and many of the presentations discussed different regulatory routes the country might take. Krishna Rao, a prominent consultant from Hyderabad reported on the smart meter study conducted in the UK that looked at different regulatory models, and argued that although the benefits of smart metering were proven both commercially and environmentally, regulatory intervention was required to drive their implementation, and would produced more benefits than a purely competitional model in India. He called for a national plan to be put together to map out AMI implementation.

Two in-depth case studies were offered by technology providers from countries very similar in many relevant ways to India: Mexico and Egypt. “Whatever your individual challenges as a utility”, said Basma Amer, CEO of the Indian arm of Egyptian smart meter provider El Sewedy, “we’ve seen them already”, referring to problems around controlling electricity theft. Although Mexico’s electricity sector is dominated by CFE, the state utility, and therefore very different from India, it is relevantly similar in terms of demography and technology. Utility professionals packed into the session to hear first-hand about the Mexican experience from IUSA, who have implemented a smart meter programme in that country. The international dimension was enhanced by specialist workshops promoting software, network, and communications solutions from experts in the USA, Japan, and Europe.

The search for coherency
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a large federalised country as ethnically and culturally diverse as India, there exists a plethora of different standards and protocols in operation in the metering area. Interoperability and protocol standardisation is a major issue and was the subject of many lively discussions at two of the technical workshops run by the Central Power Research Institute and TCE Consultants, as engineers picked apart the menu for choice of standards – a delicate but important part of the country’s progress towards AMI – and dissected the merits and demerits of current open protocols in other parts of the world.

The theme of bringing a more parsimonious order to the advancing electricity sector was one that pervaded the proceedings, whether it was calls for a clearer and stronger regulatory stance or a more transparent framework for interoperability and meter-reading standards.

Ultimately, the shape and form of the smart grid in India will be the result of all these disparate groups of stakeholders, each with their own set of constraints and priorities, and it is the function and great opportunity of a conference like the Indian Metering, Billing/CRM event to bring these groups together so that what emerges is the conscious result of careful consultation and not a cloud of confusion. In providing a platform for these voices to be heard, the conference was a success, and one that is likely only to grow as the challenges of Power for All intensify and as regulators become increasingly involved in the planning of India’s smart grid.