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India’s smart meter programme aims to replace 250 million conventional meters to cut distribution losses. HT
India’s smart meter programme aims to replace 250 million conventional meters to cut distribution losses. HT

RIL plans foray into smart electricity meter business

  • The firm is exploring to offer services such as meter data collection via Narrow Band-Internet of Things

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

This comes against the backdrop of the world’s largest electricity smart meter programme under way in India, with the aim of cutting distribution losses. India’s programme aims to replace 250 million conventional meters to help raise annual revenues of debt-laden discoms to 1.38 trillion.

The Mukesh Ambani-owned firm is looking at the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) business and is exploring offering 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 the spokespersons of RIL and Jio on 8 October remained unanswered.

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

“Some of the services that RIL may offer include meter data collection, communication cards, telecom and cloud hosting services," said one of the people 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 3.5 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.

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 are around 22% and as on 31 March, discoms owed 2.25 trillion to power generation and transmission firms.

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

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."

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