Home / Industry / Energy /  An ‘out-of-the-box’ fix to check power theft

Commercial transmission losses due to electricity theft run into millions of rupees every year. Add to this unbilled consumption and non-payment of dues, power distribution companies (discoms) suffer massive losses. With the adoption of a smart grid technology, though, a power utility in Madhya Pradesh is pushing back against transmission and distribution losses.

Engineers at Jabalpur-based Madhya Pradesh Poorv Kshetra Vidyut Vitaran Co. Ltd (MPPKVVCL) have developed a smart box which can be installed on electric poles. These boxes with internal circuitry are equipped with a GSM mobile SIM card. No changes in the transmission and distribution systems are required. The smart box was the winner at the Digital Empowerment Foundation’s awards 2017 in the “Early Stage" category.

“Any of the individual customers can then be connected or disconnected from electricity through a call or SMS from an authorized mobile number to the SIM installed in the box," said Sharad Bisen, executive engineer, MPPKVVCL, who developed the device. Discom officials can remotely monitor the activity of individual boxes.

Discoms typically send a linesman to climb the electric pole and manually disconnect the power connections of non-paying customers to force them to pay.

“This process has many problems. One is the issue of safety because it is done on live lines, and secondly consumers often protest and many times, manhandling (of officials) happens," Bisen said.

According to official figures, transmission and distribution losses at the national level were about 22.77% in 2014-15 and 21.81% in 2015-16. Some states incurred higher losses than the national average in FY15-16 and these include states like Madhya Pradesh (28.61%), Rajasthan (29.13%), Chhattisgarh (30.78%), Haryana (31.61%), Odisha (39.15), Bihar (49.29%) and Jammu and Kashmir (50.06%).

Engineers at MPPKVVCL, a state government-owned power utility, believe the smart box is a “safe, fast and economic" way to improve the state of the electricity sector, and address the issue of transmission and distribution losses from power pilferage.

The smart box was first successfully adopted as a pilot project in Jabalpur city and then extended to Gadarwara city in MP’s Narsinghpur district. The power utility has installed 150 boxes in Jabalpur and 40 in Gadarwara since it introduced the device a year ago. Bisen says MPPKVVCL has installed about 200 smart boxes so far, and plans to install around 500 more in Jabalpur city by the end of 2018.

The power utility is now also trying to see results of this technology in Rajasthan and Maharashtra, where some other discoms have adopted this as a pilot. While engineers at MPPKVVCL are working on improving the smart box for operations in MP, Bisen says other discoms were given this technology for their operations. “It is an open port technology, and I have shared this with everybody. They (other discoms) have different needs, and accordingly, they are asking for addition or removal of some of its features," says Bisen.

A smart box costs about Rs8,500, and can be fitted to the electricity feeder of 10 consumers. So, the cost comes to about Rs850 per consumer, points out Bisen, adding that the life span of each box is about five years. “So this is quite economical as per the present system because in the current system, the disconnection cost is around Rs400. So if one consumer is disconnected two times, the cost gets recovered. The results of the pilot in Jabalpur shows that the payback period of this project is four months only, which is economically very viable," he said.

Application of this technology is not restricted to stopping electricity theft or checking distribution, but can be adopted for other purposes as well. Bisen highlights that the smart box is now also being used to operate street lights, which remains a manual operation across the country. “I have been using this smart box as a timer, and developing it for other automatic operations," said Bisen.

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.

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