Context: India is on a unique journey of meeting its growing electricity demand while decarbonising its generation sources. Smart meters comprise a critical part of the transition toolbox by enabling responsible consumption, efficient energy management, and cost-effective integration of distributed energy resources.
- Prepaid Smart Meters are the new generation of energy meters that are used to record electricity consumption in real-time. As they are connected to the internet, users and utilities can easily track and monitor electricity usage and get accurate bills. They can:
- Eliminate the need for manual inspection, making them highly efficient and convenient.
- Tell about electricity use during different times of the day, months and seasons.
- Alert in case of insufficient/low balance or abnormal usage to best optimize their consumption on a user-friendly web portal or mobile app.
- Notifies about changes in power tariffs that can help to plan activities during low-tariff periods.
- Point towards appliances that are using more electricity than they should and suggests options to replace them with new, efficient ones.
Reaping technology benefits:
- India is implementing the Smart Meter National Programme (SMNP), which aims to replace 250 million conventional electric meters with prepaid smart meters by 2025-26. Till date, more than 5.5 million smart meters have been installed in India, and over 100 million sanctioned.
- India is supporting this initiative through a results-linked grant-cum-financing to help power distribution companies (discoms) become financially sound and efficient to deliver better services to consumers.
- A recent study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) found that the majority of smart meter users have already begun to experience some of the technology benefits.
- The study covered about 2,700 urban households that use prepaid or postpaid smart meters across six States. Half the users reported improvements in billing regularity, and two-thirds said paying bills had become easier.
- Around 40% of users alluded to multiple co-benefits such as a greater sense of control over their electricity expenses, a drop in instances of electricity theft, and improved power supply to the locality.
As India marches towards its vision of a financially sound and digitalised power sector through smart metering interventions, it must pursue a user-centric design and deployment strategy.
- Spread Awareness: The Ministry of Power should drive a nationwide campaign to educate consumers about smart meter benefits and improve the uptake of smart meter apps. The apps should be accessible to users from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and provide actionable tips and information.
- Capacity Building: The majority of smart meters in India are being deployed by the Advanced Metering Infrastructure Service Providers (AMISPs), responsible for installation and operation of the AMI system for the project lifetime (10 years). Discoms must closely work with AMISPs to ensure a smooth installation and recharge experience for users, to leverage smart meter data for revenue protection and consumer engagement. For this, discoms will need to strengthen their internal capacity through suitable staffing and training interventions.
- Foster Innovation: Discoms, system integrators and technology providers should collaborate to devise innovative and scalable data solutions. Effective use of smart meter data is fundamental to unlocking their true value proposition. This would require an ecosystem that fosters innovation in analytics, data hosting and sharing platforms, and enables key actors to collaboratively test and scale new solutions.
- Strengthen Regulatory framework: Policymakers and regulators must strengthen regulations to empower consumers to unlock new retail markets.
- Currently, important provisions concerning the phase-out of paper bills, arrear adjustment, frequency of recharge alerts, buffer time, rebates, and data privacy are scattered across different regulatory orders or simply missing. Their incorporation within existing State frameworks will be crucial for a positive technology experience for end users.
- Regulators must also enable simplification and innovation in tariff design and open the retail market to new business models and prosumagers (producers, consumers, and storage users).