This tiger has teeth - vigilance and automation slash energy theft in India

Revenue protection is a major concern of electricity utilities all over the world, especially when energy theft is growing at an ever-increasing pace. Various pilfering techniques have been devised by consumers with criminal tendencies, with the result that a large portion of the utility’s revenues remain unaccounted for. This in turn makes utilities’ operations more difficult.

However, these losses are controllable if they are effectively dealt with. The key components of commercial losses are caused by defective or dead meters, defective connections, illegal connections to the distribution network, meter tampering and billing losses due to closed services and human errors. The recorded losses are as high as 43% in some Indian utilities, where approximately 30% of these losses are non-technical.

The Ahmedabad Electricity Company was among the few Indian utilities which undertook a strong drive to protect revenues by minimising non-technical losses. We realised that organisation focus, staff commitment, strict and timely actions, prompt assessment of cases and the adoption of better metering practices would lead to improved detection and control of theft. The effects are long term, and the efforts are paying off. Besides yielding immediate results by way of recovery of lost units, theft detection discourages energy pilferage and results in an improvement in billing units for subsequent periods.

Table 1: Summary of theft cases by category for 1999 - 2000 in AEC
Consumer category Number of theft cases detected % age of total consumers in category
Industrial 1034 2.4 %
Commercial 797 0.5 %
Residential 1506 0.2 %

WHY IS ENERGY STOLEN?

Competition and dwindling margins force industrial and commercial customers to resort to energy theft in a country like India, where energy is a scarce and costly commodity. Amongst residential domestic consumers, the nouveau riche who wish to enjoy many luxuries and get away without paying for electricity, and the poor who are simply unable to afford the cost have been found to be the major defaulters.

EVOLUTION OF THE REVENUE PROTECTION GROUP

Figure 1: Revenues recovered ar EAC from theft cases in the past seven years

In its desire to minimise theft of energy, AEC established a task force team in the 1980s. Inspired by its success, a complete vigilance department was formed in 1993 to concentrate solely on energy theft detection. The need for preventive measures was also recognised, and were initiated in the mid 1990s by the vigilance department, the preventive activities running in parallel with detecting theft. In 1999 the vigilance department was reorganised as the Revenue Protection & Recovery Group to focus on all commercial losses.

AEC’s Revenue Protection Group checked on 30 401 consumer premises and detected energy thefts in 3 337 of these service installations during the financial year 1999-2000.

US$3.12 million was recovered during 1999-2000 from the cases registered for theft of energy – an amount that has quadrupled over a short span of seven years. This is indeed a huge achievement for a utility. Detection of theft also leads to the prevention of theft, due to future improvements in energy registration and to the fear which is increasingly instilled in consumers. We estimate that prevention of revenue losses will be in the order of $10 million this year.

AEC’S ABC OF THEFT PREVENTION

Automation – manage the utility by managing information by automation.

Beat hackers – the root cause of theft of energy.

Continuous monitoring – you are watched, consumer !

Deterrent action – penalise defaulters.

Empower vigilance teams – authority and freedom make difficult tasks easier.

Force – use it when needed.

AUTOMATION

AEC’s step towards automation in metering started way back in 1992 with the support of Secure Meters Limited, with the introduction of electronic meters. By now almost 50% of the revenue billing is done through electronic meters.

It is established that conventional electro-mechanical meters have a tendency to become slow with time. Ageing, friction, improper maintenance and susceptibility to damage during transportation are the common problems associated with an electro-mechanical meter. Under-registration of energy is yet another problem area, with non-linear loads and loads causing harmonic pollution in the network. Electro-mechanical meters are also unable to record at low load due to the high torque requirement. Tampered sites are difficult to identify, except in cases where physical damage to or alteration of the meter occurs. Maintenance and replacement costs are also high.

The limitations of electro-mechanical meters in detecting tampers, a major cause of revenue loss for the utility, are now overcome by the use of electronic meters. Electronic meters provide protection against all forms of known tamper. Installation of these meters for bulk power industrial consumers enhances the energy bill and also offers excellent tamper-proof and tamper-evident features to support the vigilance efforts.

Static meters are highly reliable; they detect tampering of CT, VT and associated wiring. Improvements in billing, theft detection and correct assessment have been noticed, leading to better customer satisfaction and management. It has been observed that the accuracy of the meters does not drift with time, and the maintenance cost is negligible. Load profile and PF information derived from electronic meters has helped in better load forecasting and load management.

The increasing use of electronic meters is sure to give rise to new forms of tamper. We have been working closely with Secure Meters to identify new ways of meter tamper, and meters have been made immune to these efforts. Metering technology now provides the flexibility to accommodate these requirements in electricity metering systems, which minimises the risk of theft.

Electronic meter reading with suitable security measures further reduces billing and human errors. Information provided by electronic meters and the use of IT effectively replace persistent vigilance efforts.

BEAT HACKERS

The common man does not indulge in energy theft on his own; electricity is a risky commodity to fiddle with. It has been observed that specialised groups of people in the guise of consultants tempt consumers to steal energy. Particular efforts are made to identify such persons or groups who specialise in tampering with the meter and associated wiring. Last year the revenue protection group at AEC apprehended ten power hackers.

Compressing Theft By ABC

Continuous monitoring of customers to identify any change in the patterns of consumption is an effective tool for revenue protection. Consumption pattern and load profile data gathered from the electronic meters is regularly assessed. Deviations are analysed and dead meters identified. Random site visits are also made to detect tampering.

Ice factories, which use electricity as a major production input, were having a boom time as they indulged in enormous theft of electrical energy, giving hardly any revenue returns to the utility. In 1995-96 AEC began strict vigilance of this industrial category. Very soon, energy measurement in the ice factories was done by the use of electronic meters, which were read daily, without fail. The positive results are evident in the following graph.

DETERRENT ACTION

Experiences at AEC indicate that penalties imposed on defaulters lead to considerable success in minimising theft. The message is strongly conveyed that it is simpler for consumers to pay for the electricity they consume than to escape from paying their electricity bills. AEC carries out mass checking and night raids to identify lawbreakers. Heavy penalties are imposed for theft, and in extreme cases the utility also resorts to disconnection of services and police action.

EMPOWER VIGILANCE TEAMS

A vigilance team without authority is like a toothless tiger. AEC felt the need to empower the team to tackle any adverse conditions and also to take spot decisions. Revenue recovery targets are set regularly and monitored on a continuous basis. An open work environment and a high morale amongst the employees lead to the rapid achievement of targets.

FORCE (SECURITY)

Security is very important for vigilance teams, as they deal with the threats of the power mafias. Without security no vigilance team can survive. A separate security force for vigilance teams was a prerequisite for their success.

OTHER MEASURES

Load Factor

Over the last 15 months, 180 000 defective and old meters have been replaced with the smarter electronic meters. Replacement of 100 000 more meters is planned, because of the improvement of up to 11% in billings from the replaced meters.

Sealing of the meter is another issue which we considered while planning revenue protection strategies. Three to four different seals with hidden marks, unique numbers, better adhesive and also plastic seals with different locking systems are used. Using paper seals as well as mechanical seals concurrently has reduced energy theft, while direct theft from fuse and service apparatus has also been reduced by the use of paper seals.

FUTURE STRATEGIES

The people involved in energy theft are using ingenious methods, posing new challenges to the utility and to energy measurement system manufacturers. Some of the forms of tamper prevalent today include burning of the meter by applying excessive voltages and direct tapping of supply before the metering point. Utilities should gear themselves to counter these forms of tamper and adopt suitable revenue protection programmes and secure metering systems to control the losses.

We plan to introduce remote metering for selected bulk customers, to monitor consumers in a more effective manner. Prepayment metering is also being considered for controlling defaulters and for temporary connections. The use of such advanced techniques is sure to give a new dimension to controlling commercial losses, resulting in better utility operations and enhanced consumer satisfaction.

Effective use of computer-based information and statistical data analysis tools aid in protecting revenues. Utilities will have to prepare themselves for a complete IT system and carry out energy audits periodically. With deregulation in the electricity supply industry becoming a common phenomenon, more and more utilities will have to introduce changes to make revenue protection a core operating strategy.

If you would like to contribute to this ongoing effort or if you need additional information, please contact us at yogesh_118@hotmail.com or ashu_vyas@hotmail.com

ABOUT AEC

Ahmedabad Electricity Company (AEC) Limited is a premier private electricity utility in India. It began distribution in 1913 as part of the Killick Nixon Group and has grown steadily over the years. Today it is part of the Ahmedabad-based Torrent Group of companies.

Generation capacity 490 MW
Peak demand 622 MW
Sales 2650 million units
Revenue US$ 197 million
Consumers 1.02 million
- Industrial 44 000
- Commercial 161 000
- Residential 820 000
Supply area 356 km2