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Cash-starved electricity distribution companies (discoms) are exploring new revenue streams such as sharing data on inefficient appliances installed at user homes with appliance sellers, according to industry executives.

Under the plan, the discoms will tap user data on power consumption to pinpoint inefficient appliances in a household. They can then send a personalized customer alert and also share the data with equipment sellers for them to make a sales pitch for replacing the older appliances. This new business strategy could potentially become a lucrative source of revenue for the discoms.

This comes as India works towards implementing a nationwide programme to replace around 250 million conventional meters with smart meters.

The massive exercise has attracted interest from foreign investors such as Canada’s largest pension fund manager Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and sovereign wealth fund Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA).

IntelliSmart, a joint venture between state-run Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL) and India’s quasi-sovereign wealth fund National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), is among the first in the country that aims to offer such a service to discoms.

IntelliSmart is doing a pilot and plans to offer the value-added service to the discoms of New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and Uttar Pradesh, said Anil Rawal, chief executive officer of IntelliSmart.

“Big data analytics using artificial intelligence and machine learning based on energy production and consumption data will help discoms tap into new sources of revenue that promise long-term returns by offering value added services such as personalized customer alerts (bill projections, neighbourhood and self-comparison), demand side management savings, and efficient use," IntelliSmart said.

EESL and IntelliSmart have orders of around 7.78 million smart meters. Of this, around 1.5 million smart meters have been installed while 2 million have been supplied to NDMC, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Andaman and Nicobar.

“We are fine tuning it and we want to create a good value alternative," Rawal said. “We are trying to create value offerings for the discoms," he said.

Discoms, which continue to be plagued by issues such as low tariff collection, increase in power purchase costs, inadequate tariff hikes and subsidy disbursements, and mounting dues from government departments, have been looking at new revenue sources.

The discoms incurred an aggregate loss of 85,000 crore in 2018-19, according to government data. Covid-19 is likely to have worsened this situation.

Experts said that “behind -the-meter services" may act as a lifeline for cash-starved discoms. “With convergence happening across electricity, telecom and mobility, it is possible for unregulated revenues to be enhanced through the ‘behind-the-meter services’ by using technology platforms in utility businesses to leverage the investments in smart meters and IoT (internet of things)," said Sambitosh Mohapatra, partner, power and utilities at PwC India.

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