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RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani.
RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani.

RIL now eyes smart electricity meter business

  • Mukesh Ambani's company is looking at advanced metering infrastructure business and is exploring offering services through Narrow Band-Internet of Things. India's smart meter programme aims to replace 250 million conventional meters

NEW DELHI: Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) is eyeing the smart electricity meter market and plans to leverage its Jio business to offer meter data collection, communication cards, telecom and cloud hosting services to electricity distribution companies (discoms), said two people aware of the development.

This comes in the backdrop of world’s largest electricity smart metering programme underway in India, with the aim of cutting distribution losses.

India’ smart meter programme aims to replace 250 million conventional meters to help raise annual revenues of debt-laden discoms to 1.38 trillion.

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani led-firm is looking at this Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) business and is exploring to offer these services through Narrow Band-Internet of Things (NB-IoT). Smart meters require a two-way communication network, control centre equipment, and software applications for near real-time gathering and transfer of energy usage information.

NB-IoT is a low-power wide-area network radio technology standard developed by 3GPP, a standards organization, to enable a wide range of cellular devices and services.

Queries emailed to a RIL spokesperson on 8 October had remained unanswered.

Smart meters minimise human intervention in metering, billing and collection, and help reduce theft by identifying loss pockets.

“Some of the services on offer by RIL include meter data collection, communication cards, telecom and cloud hosting services," said a person aware of the development cited above requesting anonymity.

Jio Platforms Ltd, RIL’s digital solutions subsidiary, has built significant capabilities in areas such as cloud and edge computing, data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, blockchain, and internet of things (IoT).

Smart meters are key to the success of India’s proposed Rs3.5 trillion distribution reform scheme— “Reforms Linked Result Based Scheme for Distribution"—that calls for completing compulsory smart metering ecosystem across the distribution sector, starting from electricity feeders to the consumer levels.

Electricity discoms are the weakest link in the electricity value chain, plagued by low collection, increase in power purchase cost, inadequate tariff hikes and subsidy disbursement, and mounting dues from government departments. India’s aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses to be around 22% and as on 31 March, discoms owed Rs2.25 trillion to power generation and transmission companies.

Analysts say the Indian power sector is witnessing a steady transformation towards digitisation and the smart meter’ efficacy was proven during the national lockdown resulting in an average monthly revenue per consumer increase as compared to the problems faced by conventional metering technology.

ICICI Securities Limited in a 30 September report wrote, “As per EESL, smart meters are a part of the overall Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) solution that measures and records consumers’ electricity use at different times of the day and sends this information to the energy supplier through GPRS technology."

“This gives consumers better access to information and allows them to make more informed decisions on the use of electricity in their homes, leading to reduced power wastage, and long-term carbon and financial savings. It also improves the DISCOM’s operational performance by increasing billing efficiency, reducing O&M cost and enhancing the quality of service by providing consumers with Demand Side Management (DSM) options," the ICICI Securities report added.

The government has been trying to leverage smart meters to reduce losses.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech earlier this year said, “I urge all the states and Union territories to replace conventional energy meters by prepaid smart meters in the next three years. Also, this would give consumers the freedom to choose the supplier and rate as per their requirements."

“Of the total all-India AT&C losses of 22% (FY19), it is estimated that 9-10% is related to T&D while 12-13% is billing and collection related inefficiencies. One of the ways the government is targeting to reduce AT&C losses is through installation of smart meters," the ICICI Securities report said.

Reliance Jio, India’s largest telecom operator by market share, started operations in September 2016 and has brought in fast, cheap internet to over 388 million subscribers.

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