Rolling out the future of the energy grid

260,000 Smart Meters for North Delhi.

Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited has installed over 260,000 smart meters in North Delhi and taken a significant step towards fulfilling India’s vision of a smart grid.

 

By Swati Prasad

North Delhi, a large, bustling region within the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi, is home to over 7 million people. It has a mix of industrial areas, commercial complexes,heritage monuments, apartment complexes, and residential colonies, but those who’ve grown up in Delhi associate it more with the North Campus and its prestigious institutions like St. Stephen’s College and Shri Ram College of Commerce.

 

Rasna Kame (48), an architect, lives with her family in her husband’s ancestral home in Shakti Nagar, a colony set up in the early 1950s. Today, the 500-square yard bungalow may bear a dated look, but power distribution in her borough is state-of-the-art. “We rarely have outages,” says Kame. However, over the last two years, the family’s electricity consumption has shot up significantly, thanks to work-from-home and online schooling. That’s why news that the power distribution company in the area – Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (Tata Power-DDL) – is installing smart meters has got her curious. “I have heard that smart meters will give us a handle on our power consumption,” says Kame. 

Real-time data from smart meters

She is right. With smart meters, customers can get valuable, real-time power consumption data on their mobile phones that can be used to make changes to their lifestyle. By March 2022, Tata Power-DDL, a joint venture between Tata Power and the government of Delhi, had installed 260,000 smart meters in North Delhi across domestic, commercial, and industrial consumers. “Tata Power-DDL is one of the first utilities in the country to roll out smart meters,” says Ganesh Srinivasan, CEO of Tata Power-DDL. For this initiative, his company is working in partnership with Landis+Gyr, a global leader in smart metering, and with Siemens, a leader in smart grid solutions that has installed and commissioned the meter data management system for Tata Power-DDL.

Tata Power-DDL is one of the first utilities in the country to roll out smart meters.
Ganesh Srinivasan, CEO of Tata Power-DDL

Robert HK Demann, Head of Smart Infrastructure at Siemens Limited (India), believes that the initiative marks an important milestone in the development of India’s energy system. “We take great pride in partnering with Tata Power-DDL in the digitalization of the energy distribution networks. Our aim is to empower our customers to master their digital transformation and sustainability challenges with our technologies. The implementation of Advanced Metering Infrastructure is aligned to the National Program for Smart Metering and will play a key role in the deployment of Smart Grids across the country,” he says.

 

The benefit for the utility is substantial and concrete, as Demann notes: “Smart meters provide utilities with accurate, real-time utilization of data. The state-of-the-art EnergyIP Meter Data Management System deployed by Siemens enables timely and accurate collection of electricity meter data, leading to increased visibility of the consumer network and enabling distribution utilities to better optimize the grid.”

Smart meters are a crucial first step in the direction of smart grids, or electrical grids featuring automation, communication, and IT systems that can monitor power flows from points of generation to points of consumption. These systems control the flow of electricity or curtail the load to match generation in real time, or in a near-real time scenario.

 

Before embarking on this journey, Tata Power-DDL had undertaken a detailed feasibility study to understand the shortcomings of the conventional meters. “One of the major challenges with conventional meters was the one-way traffic between the company and the consumers,” says Srinivasan. Power theft, outage management, revenue management, billing inefficiencies, and service reliability were among the other challenges faced by the company.

The logical choice

Therefore, smart meters were a logical choice. In fact, smart meters hold the key to reduction of transmission and distribution (T&D) losses. Today, Tata Power-DDL can read the smart meters of its customers remotely. “With reduced need for physical movement by the team, operating expenditure is also reduced,” says Srinivasan.

Smart meters are advantageous for consumers, too. They enhance customer satisfaction through seamless and error-free online billing, faster outage detection, and restoration of service. And, as Kame mentioned, customers get a real-time picture of their energy consumption.

 

“It would certainly help to know our usage data,” says Sanjay Verma (51), an electronics engineer. Verma lives in Sector 13, Rohini, and has elderly parents living close by in Sector 18. Since he shuttles between the two homes, he is keen to study usage data and project monthly usage at both apartments. With smart meters, “the possibilities for customer engagement are enormous,” says Srinivasan. For instance, Tata Power-DDL launched a behavioral demand response program for residential customers in their area of operation to help them reduce their peak demand by understanding their consumption patterns.

Grid integration of renewables

Smart meters are also a prerequisite to integrating more renewables into the grid and balancing loads. India is poised to witness considerable changes in its energy mix, with the country targeting 500 GW of renewable energy generation by 2030. The Indian government has been taking several measures to encourage households to install rooftop solar plants. In February, it simplified procedures further so that more households can avail themselves of the subsidy for solar power plants.

 

Renewable energy gives rise to prosumers, or consumers who are also producers of energy. “A grid using a higher proportion of renewable energy is affected by larger supply fluctuations, which need to be stabilized through battery storage, and by new technologies, such as virtual power plants,” says Demann, referring to cloud-based distributed power plants that aggregate the capacities of heterogeneous distributed energy resources for the purposes of enhancing power generation, as well as trading or selling power on the electricity market. Given the fluctuations in renewable energy generation, smart meters enable better management of peak and off-peak load.

Smart meters provide utilities with accurate, real time utilization of data.
Robert HK Demann, Head of Smart Infrastructure at Siemens Limited

Demann says smart meters are akin to sensors that determine power consumption by providing the much-required transparency at the consumer end. “They also enable accurate load forecasting,” adds Srinivasan.

 

In an age when sustainability has become a key criterion for consumers, entrepreneurs, and shareholders alike, the technology contributes to the achievement of Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) goals. With data management enabled by smart meters, Tata Power-DDL can meet sustainability targets in the areas of energy efficiency, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and improving the safety of employees and the general public. Moreover, Siemens is working toward enhancing operational safety and reliability for Tata Power-DDL’s critical energy assets.

 

Smart meters also enable peer-to-peer trading through blockchain, which is seen as a promising tool for recording and facilitating transactions between generators and consumers of energy. “Prosumers can sell electricity to any consumer through the distribution company’s network by paying wheeling charges as specified by the regulator,” says Srinivasan.

Rising demand for power

Over the last eight years, per-capita electricity consumption in India has grown steadily from 914 kWh in 2012-13 to 1,208 kWh in 2019-2020. However, it is nearly a third of the world average (which stood at 3,260 kWh in 2018-19). According to a United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat) report, India is poised to see rapid urbanization and will have two more megacities with over 10 million residents each by 2030. Alongside urbanization, electricity consumption is set to grow dramatically, creating the need for smart management of grid power supply to consumers.

With smart meters, the possibilities for customer engagement are enormous.
Ganesh Srinivasan, CEO of Tata Power-DDL

Incidentally, Tata Power-DDL’s landmark of installing 260,000 smart meters in North Delhi nearly coincided with the Indian government clearing a Rs 3,030 billion (US$40.55 billion), five-year scheme that seeks to install 250 million smart meters across the country. This program, announced in June last year, will be the world’s largest electricity smart metering program.

 

“I do not know of any other market that will deploy 250 million smart meters in the next few years,” says Demann. Such large numbers can only come from a country like India, with its population of 1.39 billion. Given its ambitions and high growth projections, the day does not seem far when India will have a nation-wide smart grid in place, supported by millions of smart meters. For smart meters, as Srinivasan says, are the backbone for building a smart grid.

 

Author: Swati Prasad is a freelance journalist based in Delhi, writing on business, economy, technology and healthcare. She reports from India for several publications overseas and has worked as a correspondent and editor for The Economic Times, Business Standard, The Indian Express, and Business Today.

 

May 3, 2022

Picture credits: Siemens AG, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited, Shutterstock

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