[Sundar Rao][November, 19 2007]Spintelligent organized its maiden Metering, Billing/CRM India conference in New Delhi, India from October 16-18, 2007. The conference theme was “Enhance customer service and improve business operations”, and it attracted an impressive gathering of around 175 delegates representing utilities, the metering industry, consultants and other experts.

Pre-conference workshops: Prepayment and metering standards
The morning session was focused on prepayment, opening with a session aptly named “Nuts and bolts of prepayment.” During this session case studies were presented on prepayment deployments in the UK and South Africa, as well as on prepayment for the water industry. Also discussed was a case study of a pilot in India, implemented by North Delhi Power Ltd (NDPL). Almost all of the speakers in this session stressed the need for providing cost effective and reliable prepayment solutions to consumers. The advantages of prepayment over post-payment was brought out by various speakers and the kind of promotional campaign to be done in introducing this technology was well brought out by the speaker from NDPL.

By the end of the session it was clear that prepayment meters are aptly suited to a market like India, where power theft is rampant and there is a shortage of energy. Prepayment meters are not only an effective tool to monitor consumer consumption patterns but also they can be very effective as an energy budgeting tool and thereby accomplish demand side management objectives. Furthermore, the distribution reforms in India and the Electricity Act of 2003 are excellent enablers in introducing prepayment meters on a large scale.

In the afternoon, a workshop entitled “Identifying and defining standards and protocols for Indian utilities” was conducted by N. Murugesan of the Central Power Research Institute (CPRI). Topics covered included the present status of metering and communication protocols in India, difficulties faced by Indian utilities, the challenge to create an industry-wide standard, the need for interoperability and comparison of major metering protocols, and features and the adoption of IEC 62056 (DLMS/COSEM) for Indian utilities.

Murugesan stressed the importance of open domain protocols for meter networkability in an AMR/AMI environment. The problems faced by utilities with large installations of meters with proprietary protocols and the need for a  transformation to introduce state-of-the-art meters based on open protocols such as MODBUS and DLMS are well known. At the end of the session it was concluded that the Indian metering industry should adopt open domain protocols to be in tune with global best practices and so that AMR/AMI solutions can be implemented without any difficulties.

Lighting of the lamp

Lighting of the lamp

Day 1 – Opening session

Rudi Leitner, CEO of Spintelligent, extended a warm welcome to Jayanth Kawale, joint secretary in the Ministry of Power, the chairman of the opening session Arup Gosh, COO of NDPL, and other distinguished delegates. The proceedings of the conference began with the traditional lighting of the lamp.

In the inaugural keynote address Kawale dealt extensively with the challenges faced by India’s power distribution sector and recent government initiatives, such as the Accelerated Power Distribution Reform Program (APDRP) and the Ragiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutee karan Yojana (RGGVY) rural electrification program, in accomplishing the gigantic task of providing power for all by 2012. In explaining the lessons learnt so far from the APDRP, Kawale mentioned that the power ministry had just finalized APDRP II, which will bring a true transformation to the business environment of utilities through the deployment, wherever feasible, of modern information technology tools. Kawale also stressed the importance of customer care, which was missing in the minds of many utility planners. According to Kawale there are two kinds of markets for metering emerging in India, namely meters for system monitoring and improvements to facilities such as substations, feeders, distribution transformers, etc., and consumer metering. Speaking about metering technologies, Kawale opined that innovative, reliable and affordable technologies need to be introduced to meet the requirements of accurate metering of agricultural and rural connections, where per capita consumption is low and it is difficult to justify the high meter costs. As an indication of the market size of these segments Kawale mentioned the number of around 100 million meters in the next 4 to 5 years. Dealing with the multitude of smart and intelligent metering technologies available today, Kawale commented that there is a risk of great confusion on the part of utilities in choosing the right technologies and the need of the moment is for smart and intelligent choices.

In his address as chairman of the opening session, Arup Gosh explained the various innovative measures and technologies introduced by NDPL as part of its commitment to reduce the high aggregated technical and commercial (AT&C) losses and to provide affordable, reliable and quality power to consumer. Some of these include SCADA-controlled grid stations, automatic meter reading, a GSM-based street lighting system and SMS-based fault management system. To ensure complete transparency, the company has provided online billing and payment information to all its 1 million consumers.

Opening session MINDIA

Opening session of Metering India 2007

Metering technologies

Prof. A.K. Singh, director of the Electrical Research and Development Association (ERDA), gave a perspective on the trends in electric metering in India’s power sector. Singh emphasized the need to provide quality, reliable power on a sustainable and affordable basis, and he singled out metering as one of the most important contributors to the success of distribution reforms, saying: “You can only improve what you can measure.” He also mentioned the need to take a holistic approach in introducing modern IT tools to improve the financial health of utilities and customer satisfaction through system improvements. He introduced the interesting term “negawatt” (conservation of energy) and mentioned the success of distribution reforms lies primarily in generating very high negawatts (through demand side management), since for each negawatt of  power generated 3 megawatts of power need not actually be produced.

R.C. Dhup, general manager of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), gave an update on metering activities in the context of the APDRP. He began his presentation looking at how the distribution sector and metering scenario of India evolved, starting from 1948 with the introduction of Ferraris meters to the present day, state-of-the-art metering. He touched on the introduction of a flat tariff for agriculture in the 1970s and free and subsidized power for farmers and economically poor sections of society in the 1980s, and the resultant challenges introduced by such “de-metering” measures in terms of financial and system performance, leading to the subsequent re-introduction of consumption-based tariffs through metering at every consumer point. He highlighted the various steps taken by the government in the 1990s to reform the distribution sector through deregulation and encouragement of private sector participation. In particular, Dhup provided detailed insight on the APDRP and the proposed six level intervention strategy from national to individual consumer level:

  • Reduction of AT&C losses below 15%
  • Bringing about commercial viability
  • Increasing power supply reliability
  • Improving power supply quality
  • Adopting a systematic approach with MIS
  • Bringing transparency through computerization.

Dhup dealt extensively with the importance of metering at feeder, distribution transformer and consumer levels, highlighting the requirements of such meters in terms of standard protocols ensuring interoperability for networkability in an AMR/AMI environment, and features such as time-of-day (TOD), data logging of consumption and tamper events, data download capability to meter reading instruments. Touching on the market for meters, Dhup mentioned that the APDRP and RGGVY initiatives are the most important drivers, ensuring sustained volumes running into millions of meters per year for the next 4 to 5 years.

In the second session, a presentation on an advanced energy and revenue management system by Pukhraj Singh, Gert Gous and Arif Petiwala of EMCO provided a lucid insight to various prevailing technologies in prepayment metering, from stand alone keypad types to state-of-the-art split and AMR types. Prepayment was emphasized as an effective tool for energy and revenue management. The presentation also dealt extensively on the key success factors, such as political and management will, that need to be addressed in introducing these technologies.

Rajesh Bansal, chief - meter management at BSES Delhi, in his presentation on maximizing the benefits of AMR for theft detection through data analytics, gave an excellent and detailed picture of AMR deployment for premium consumers in BSES Delhi. He explained how BSES uses AMR as an effective tool to reduce operating costs and to detect and control theft in the premium segment. He mentioned that a key benefit of AMR is providing useful data for analysis in areas such as tampering, consumption and billing. Bansal also presented methodologies adopted in conducting these analyses as well as case studies that demonstrate the clear advantages of such analyses. Some of the interesting facts that came out in these case studies were: 1) some budget hotels were consuming as little as 200 units per air conditioned room per month, 2) booking of 20 hotels for power theft, 3) booking of four natural gas outlets for power theft, 4) the surprise finding that approximately 1 percent of the bank branches were not in the billing net. He also discussed AMR as an effective tool in conducting energy audits and presented examples on such studies conducted on HV feeders and distribution transformers in Delhi.

In the afternoon session, two case studies were presented on AMR implementations, one in Malaysia for the water industry by Faizal Othman, general manager of Ranhill Utilities Berhad, and the other at NDPL by B.N. Prasanna, the utility’s AMR manager.

Othman provided insight into the transformation of Johor city’s water industry from a government run entity to a corporate company in the private sector. He discussed key improvement initiatives, including an AMR pilot, organizational restructuring, staff empowerment, a customer focus, and service level benchmarks. Some of the interesting findings of the AMR pilot at Johor were that employee productivity improved by 25 percent, overtime payment was reduced by 50 percent, the collection period was reduced to 39.4 days from 75 days, and the collection efficiency improved to more than 100 percent.

Prasanna gave a detailed description of the system architecture of AMR implementation, starting from the meter at the consumer premises coupled with GSM modem, communication server for communication with meters, database server for data storage and retrieval of data, and application server for interfacing with the user. He also discussed the challenges faced during implementation, including choice of modems, problems due to faulty designs, protocol-related issues with meter manufacturers, etc.

Day 2 – Billing/CRM and revenue protection

M.V. Krishna Rao, director of Global Energy Consulting Engineers, opened the session with a very lucid presentation on billing and CRM as a utility management tool including SAAS (software as a service). Rao dealt with customer-centric requirements such as call registration, supply restoration, new connections, ensuring reliable and quality power supply, accurate and regular billing, a single window for customer care, ready availability of tariff-related information, etc. He also discussed the prerequisites of systems such as GIS, asset management, CIS, SCADA, customer care including call management, and billing that will accomplish an effective management of network operations and business processes. Rao discussed in detail SAAS as a service delivery model and brought out the clear advantages of adopting such a model in comparison with traditional CRM models. Some of these advantages are no large upfront or installation costs, high levels of security, and can be terminated/re-sized without any capex issues. Conversely some of the disadvantages are the core functionality is out-sourced, the broadband risk, and not being suited to high volume data entry.

In a presentation on outsourcing of meter service provision, Durga Prasad, associate vice president utility practice at Enzen Global Solutions, India, discussed the prevailing scenario in the power distribution sector, with issues such as insufficient O&M manpower, obsolete technologies, lack of infrastructure, and competencies. Some of the key challenges of the existing meter procurement practices are lengthy tender process, improper meter asset management, and a considerable gap between demand and supply of meters. Commenting on the benefits and risks involved in the total outsourcing of the entire metering cycle from procurement to reading and issuing bills, Prasad cited improved cash flow, customer satisfaction, and single window answerability with regards to meter management as the key benefits to the utility.

M. Surendar Reddy, managing director of Analogics Tech India Ltd, gave a presentation on the evolution of billing systems. Reddy discussed in detail the pros and cons of billing systems, from manual to present day state-of-the-art ones. He then went on to present the spot billing system, which is the one-time process of recording the consumption and generating and issuing a bill. Spot billing eliminates manual recording of consumption, ensures bills are accurate, and improves collection efficiency.

R.C. Dhup reviewed the extent of non-technical losses in India and possible solutions using the latest technologies. He discussed in detail distribution losses and AT&C losses, which are the difference between the energy unit input to the system and the units for which payment is realized. AT&C loss measurement has become the norm in India as currently there is no supporting infrastructure available to segregate the technical from the commercial losses. Suggesting various methods of reducing non-technical losses, such as improved vigilance, replacement of  defective meters, meter reading through AMR, etc., Dhup identified IT as a key enabler in reducing losses and improving customer satisfaction and collection efficiencies. Dhup further gave a detailed approach for creating an IT backbone comprising central data center, communication infrastructure, real time data acquisition (SCADA), GIS, customer care and billing systems, and integration of these with the management system.

Arindam Ghosh of KPMG India discussed commercial loss reduction through innovative metering solutions. Ghosh identified meter-related issues contributing to losses, including meter quality, installation, tampering and meter reading. He then went on to suggest various intervention strategies to overcome the issues from an investment perspective. Among these are the replacement of defective/electromechanical meters with state-of-the-art, feature-rich electronic meters, meter reading through MRIs, pole mounted metering, AMR, and outsourcing of the meter management cycle.

Dirk Byker, president of the South African Revenue Protection Association (SARPA), reviewed the South African experience of revenue protection, identifying meter tampering as the prime issue of concern in South Africa. Byker said that revenue protection is an on going process and he emphasized the need to establish a revenue protection division with committed staff with adequate skills and resources to detect tampering, identify defaulters, launch prosecutions, establish auditing processes, etc.

Revenue protection through good installation practices and maintenance was discussed by G.K. Panchal, group technical advisor at Datagen Power Systems, India. Panchal emphasized good practices during installation of the metering system to increase the reliability of the system and the subsequent processes for maintaining its health, thereby protecting revenue for the utilities. He also discussed in detail various network related issues, such as poor cabling, harmonics, neutral burning, poor layout of distribution transformers, etc., illustrating how these also contribute to revenue losses. Some of the best practices suggested for reduction of losses are pole mounted metering, AMR, use of the HV distribution system, etc.

Utility management

The highlight of this session was a presentation evaluating public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the Indian power sector by Ashish Khanna, from the South Asia Sustainable Development Unit of The World Bank. Khanna highlighted the key challenges facing the sector as low levels of access, an inefficiently governed distribution sector, and insufficient generation. According to Khanna, India requires investments of approximately US$150 billion in the power sector during the eleventh plan (2007-2012). Since public investments are not sufficient to provide adequate funding for the sector, and more importantly the existing institutional constraints to undertaking project management of capital expenditure of such magnitude (almost 3 times current levels), PPPs are increasingly being accepted as the most viable option for meeting deficits in the sector. Khanna then discussed how the PPP process is evolving in the value chain of India’s power sector, suggesting that while the generation and transmission sectors have some mature processes, the distribution sector has seen mixed results. In terms of the way forward for PPP opportunities, Khanna suggested that in distribution each state would need to chart its way forward for PPPs based on the socio-economic context and levels of current institutional capacity. He also mentioned some of the specific constraints that impede the development of PPPs in the power sector, including inadequate contract management and bid process management skills, regulatory risks, specifically legal and payment security mechanisms, and financial losses in the distribution sector.

A think tank session on enterprise-wide IT systems in effective utility management was chaired by M.V. Krishna Rao, with panelists comprising eminent professionals from companies in the Indian IT industry including IBM, Satyam, Sun Tec, and CPRI. In his opening remarks Rao provided a detailed scenario of IT in the Indian power sector, including the role of IT as an enabler of change in power sector operations and processes. He also touched on the APDRP and distribution reforms, which are acting as prime drivers in adopting IT at all levels of network operations, business processes, customer care and revenue management. Other panellists emphasized the need for a holistic approach in planning IT projects to meet the current and future challenges of the distribution sector, bringing in reforms in the tendering for IT projects, improving project management skills, the effective utilization of IT solutions, and the effective usage of consumption data for revenue management and system planning. Standardization aspects were also emphasized in terms of open domain protocols.

Conclusions

In the concluding session a panel discussion entitled “How a transparent pricing and regulatory framework can enhance the public image of utility services” was held. The panel was chaired by Ravi Shankar, former joint director of the Andra Pradesh Regulatory Commission and currently director of Lanco Infrastructure Ltd. Other panel members were eminent professional in the field drawn from prestigious organizations including Reliance, NDPL and ERDA. The discussions were centered on the tariff structure in India, the metering implications of complex tariff design, and regulatory frameworks. It was concluded that political will and commitment are the key success factors in transforming the distribution sector and bringing about a rationalized tariff structure that satisfies both the suppliers and consumers.

The conference thus came to an end after two days of intense discussions and the active participation of learned delegates and speakers, who presented state-of-the-art technological solutions and best practices for enhancing customer satisfaction and improving the business operations of India’s distribution sector.