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NEW DELHI : Attracted by the world’s largest electricity smart metering programme underway in India, Canada’s largest pension fund manager Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and sovereign wealth fund Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) have evinced interest for investing in the same to National Investments and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), said two people aware of the development.

This comes in the backdrop of NIIF being present in India’ smart meter programme space through IntelliSmart—its joint venture with state-run Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), that works on a build-own-operate and transfer (BOOT) model. India aims to replace 250 million conventional meters with smart meters, that also hold the key to its electricity distribution reforms.

An external spokesperson for NIIF in an emailed response said, “As per NIIF policy, we do not comment on market speculation and information gathered from third party sources.’’

With $4.3 billion of equity capital commitments from investors such as CPPIB and ADIA, NIIF invests across asset classes such as infrastructure, private equity, transportation and energy.

The country’ smart meter programme has also been garnering interest from large corporates such as Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), that plans to leverage its Jio business to offer meter data collection, communication cards, telecom and cloud hosting services to discoms. Also, French government-owned power utility Electricite de France SA (EDF) has been involved in for putting up five million smart meters.

Creating a smart meter architecture minimises human intervention in metering, billing and collection process and helps in reducing theft by identifying loss pockets. It requires a two-way communication network, control centre equipment and software applications that enable near real-time gathering and transfer of energy usage information.

A person cited above requesting anonymity said that pension and sovereign wealth funds such as CPPIB and ADIA are willing to invest in annuity businesses that have a reliable revenue flow.

An ADIA spokesperson declined comment. Queries emailed to the spokespersons of CPPIB on late Tuesday night wasn’t immediately answered.

So far, EESL has signed agreements for smart meters deployment with New Delhi Municipal Council, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Andaman and Nicobar.

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."

According to IntelliSmart, “National level AT&C losses stand at 22% as of FY 2018-19 but the actual losses including agricultural losses may lie between 30-35%."

While making a case for the need for smart meters in India, IntelliSmart in a statement to Mint said, “At the stated level of AT&C losses and sales projections estimated by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) in its 19th Electric Power Survey (EPS) report, commercial losses without installation of smart meters in next 10 years shall rise from an annual loss of 51,253 lakh crore in FY 2019 to Rs. 1,17,272 lakh crore in FY 2032. While the cumulative total losses in the Distribution sector are estimated to be about INR 20 lakh crore by FY 2032, about INR 11 lakh crore would be only on account of billing and collection inefficiencies which can be mitigated by having a robust and large Smart Metering programme in the country."

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