Made-In-India Solutions Driving Smart Metering And Energy Management Worldwide

Anand Parthasarathy

Sep 02, 2022, 01:21 PM | Updated 01:17 PM IST

Made-in-India smart meters from C-DAC ( left) and L&T.
Made-in-India smart meters from C-DAC ( left) and L&T.
  • Indian Power Ministry launches largest-ever tender to procure 1 crore smart energy meters.
  • An Indian startup, Bidgely, crafts AI-driven energy management solution for dozens of power utilities in US and UK.
  • Its energy theft solution has been selected by India’s Rural Electrification undertaking to curb energy misuse, while other Bidgely AI-driven tools will be harnessed for the Delhi area by BRPL.
  • An anonymous English proverb runs ‘there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip’! The bitter truth of this saying is known only too well to those in charge of India’s energy distribution business.

    Between the generation of electric power — at thermal, hydel, nuclear and non-conventional energy (solar and wind power) plants — and its metering in the premises of the consumer, atround 20 per cent of the energy goes missing, in what are known as T&D — transmission and distribution — losses in India.

    This is far higher than what is globally recognised as an acceptable level of loss — 6-8 per cent.

    Energy theft: tapping power lines before they are metered is a major source of loss to distribution companies.
    Energy theft: tapping power lines before they are metered is a major source of loss to distribution companies.

    Finally, there is action in reducing this waste of national resources — mainly through theft.

    Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), a joint venture of four energy PSUs — NTPC Ltd, Power Finance Corporation Ltd, REC Ltd and PowerGrid Corporation of India — has launched a Smart Meter National Programme to replace 25 crore conventional electricity meters with smart meters in a time bound manner — a first step in arresting T&D wastage.

    Procuring 1 Crore Smart Meters For India

    As part of this initiative, the Power Ministry has floated one of the largest procurement actions in the energy solutions space, anywhere in the world — a tender for 1 crore smart meters which closes next week on 9 September.

    It is the first tranche in what is a massive Rs 3 lakh crore project under the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS) of which Rs 10,000 crore are reserved for smart metering solutions alone.

    The aim is to bootstrap India into a new regime of high tech, remotely managed, artificial intelligence driven energy management that is best-in-class and cutting edge.

    The opportunity is so huge that energy sector players like Adani, Bosch, TataPower, device makers like Schneider — even telecom providers, fresh with 5G licences: Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone-Idea (Vi) are known to be bidding, reports Business Standard.

    The meters are all made in India — and some designs have flown from government labs like the Thiruvananthapuram unit of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC).

    Why are telecom providers bidding in a metering tender?

    Because India has mandated that the wireless umbilical for remotely monitoring the smart meters will be provided by 4G and Nb-IoT or Narrow Band — Internet of Things spectrum bands. The last is commonly used for 5G — hence 5G telecom service providers see a stake for themselves.

    In a decision of far-reaching impact, the replacement of conventional energy meters with smart meters is being done entirely by the Power Ministry, with the generation and distribution companies in a Built-Operate-Transfer (BOT) mode — without charging the consumer a paisa (the average cost of a domestic smart meter is around Rs 5,000).

    This is because the savings in energy after the nation has moved to smart metering are expected to be dramatic — not just due to theft prevention but through better management of utilisation and distribution.

    But meters — smart or otherwise — are by themselves only tools to monitor consumption.

    Energy efficiency and theft prevention requires intelligence to be built into the system to interpret the data and manage the system.

    Made-In-India Solutions, Used World-Wide

    Ironically, some of the best solutions to manage energy distribution and consumption more efficiently are being crafted by Indian brains in India — and being leveraged by dozens of power sector companies in the US and UK.

    Rocky Mountain Power, SoCal Gas (Southern California), ColumbiaGas Ohio, Pacific Power (all in the US), Hydro Ottawa (in Canada), Repsol (Spain) and Electric Ireland are all users of the “UtilityAI” energy platform and other solutions for conventional and non-conventional energy management… solutions crafted by a 200-strong team of engineers in the Bengaluru centre of energy startup, Bidgely (Hindi for electricity).

    The company serves its US clients out of Mountain View, in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley.

    Gautam Aggarwal, chief revenue officer, Bidgely.
    Gautam Aggarwal, chief revenue officer, Bidgely.

    In a privileged communication to Swarajya, Gautam Aggarwal, chief revenue officer, Bidgely explains:

    “We all have now heard the saying that ‘data is the new oil!’ At Bidgely, we started focusing on energy data more than a decade back. Smart meters generate and capture data at 15 or 30-minute intervals, which they transmit to the utility systems.

    “Bidgely’s patented algorithms process this data for each consumer to break it down into appliance level consumption and generate personalised insights.

    “Therefore, we are able to analyse every meter and detect consumption pattern anomalies which are almost impossible to detect by conventional analytics.

    “Since our solution can ‘see’ which appliances are being used, how much are they consuming and at what time they are used, we can help the consumers to track and optimise consumption in a more environmentally friendly, sustainable, and cost-effective manner.”

    The Bidgely algorithms also track usage patterns which helps detect any deviations from a set pattern of energy usage.

    It can detect if a meter connected to a domestic consumer shows a pattern of usage that is more typical of an office or a commercial establishment.

    It can detect whether electricity is used to charge an electric vehicle battery, or whether the electricity flows from a rooftop solar panel — all valuable information that can lead to less wastage, more efficient use of power.

    Other solutions monitor the power cables and alert distribution companies if supply lines are directly tapped, bypassing meters.

    How AI analytics detects power theft by monitoring usage  pattern data from smart meters.
    How AI analytics detects power theft by monitoring usage pattern data from smart meters.

    Indian Distribution Agencies Come On Board

    In recent days, multiple Indian agencies are tapping Bidgely’s expertise:

    - Last month, a major Indian power corporation, REC Ltd ( formerly Rural Electrification Corporation), selected Bidgely’s Energy Theft Solution and will use its IT-enabled data analytics to detect and resolve energy misuse.

    - A large utility in central India is working with Bidgely and the World Bank in a project to harness theft detection analytics.

    - And this week, another power distribution company, BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd (BRPL) which serves the Delhi area, turned to Bidgely’s AI-based solutions to enhance operational efficiencies in several areas including loss reduction, power-theft detection, short-term load forecasting solutions, detection and profiling of electric vehicles (EV) and solar rooftop Photovoltaics and customised energy saving insights for consumers. It will also enable BRPL to leverage Bidgely’s strengths and benefit from their global experience and expertise in these areas.

    Says R Lakshmanan, chief executive officer of REC Power Development and Consultancy Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of REC: “High levels of technical and commercial energy losses are a major financial concern for state utilities — with 22 per cent of distributed power going unaccounted for — and energy theft is one of the largest contributors.

    “As India deploys hundreds of millions of smart meters by 2030, leveraging capabilities in artificial intelligence and machine learning to this new wave of energy data will be critical to support the objectives of the Ministry of Power.”

    Over 40 global customers — and now a few Indian entities like REC and BRPL — harness the Bidgely solutions to manage and optimise energy networks that are backed by 17 patents.

    Adds Bidgely’s Aggarwal: “This is also going to be a massive step in contributing to our PM’s vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. I am very proud of the fact that our theft detection solution is truly a ‘Make-in-India’ initiative.

    “Our Bangalore engineering centre is the epicenter of all our global innovations for the electric utilities.”

    Anand Parthasarathy is managing director at Online India Tech Pvt Ltd and a veteran IT journalist who has written about the Indian technology landscape for more than 15 years for The Hindu.

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