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The series of intermittent lockdowns in various parts of India to limit the spread of COVID-19 has led to a disruptive impact on the Indian economy. Though the sectors under the non-essentials category are witnessing a temporary demand decline, few sectors in the essentials category (e.g. power) have also been impacted.

The C&I (Commercial & Industrial) sector is a major consumer of electricity but the closure of factories, offices, and other commercial establishments has resulted in an enormous drop in electricity demands.

As per a report, the overall power demand crashed by 25-30 percent in April, 2020[1]. The current situation does not look promising, as COVID-19 cases continue to surge across major parts of India[2]. Consumers in the residential and agricultural sectors are also facing difficulties in paying up their electricity bills[3].

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, electric meter reading activities were temporarily halted by the Government and many consumers are being billed on the average consumption of previous months (January, February 2020). A large number of consumers in metro cities were outraged over alleged ‘erratic billing’[4] by power distribution companies. The crux of the problem lies in the meter reading process[5] that is manual in nature and requires on-field personnel to perform that activity.

Though the bills would be appropriately adjusted once the DISCOMs resume the actual meter readings, the pandemic provides an opportunity to realize rapid digitalization across different departments in the utility sector. This step will be instrumental in reducing the financial burden on the DISCOMs.

The ₹ 90,000 crore Aatmanirbhar Bharat Discom package will ease the liquidity pressures on funds-starved electricity distribution companies but there is an immediate necessity for integrating automation tools in the power ecosystem. In the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), 95 percent[6] of consumers were billed during the lockdown in comparison to 29 percent in the rest of India. The major differentiator is the proliferation of Smart Metering Infrastructure in the State.

AMI smart meters have multi-fold benefits for utility companies and consumers alike. AMI provides utility companies with detailed information about power consumption on a real-time basis and helps consumers in making informed choices based on their consumption patterns. Smart meters also reduce the probability of power pilferage, along with bringing efficiency in electricity distribution with advanced grid technologies.

Smart Meters are equipped with wireless communication technologies (GSM/GPRS/RF) hence, on-field personnel are not required for meter reading activity. Smart Meters can play a major role in the current scenario where the entire country is battling with the COVID-19 pandemic, as it will help consumers with accurate and timely billing. This step will greatly help in reducing the financial stress of power distribution companies since there is no lag in the generation of meter-to-cash.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an accidental catalyst for accelerating the rollout of Smart Meters, fuelled by the need to reduce billing inaccuracies and combat non-technical losses. Not only smart metering but there is also a need to leverage automation technologies at critical points involved in energy generation(, transmission, and distribution) and other focal points related to customer services.

Widespread adoption of Smart Meters holds the key to efficiently generate and distribute electricity, as it presents a win-win proposition for all the stakeholders (i.e. consumers, power distribution companies, etc.) in the energy and utility ecosystem.

 


[1] https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/economy/covid-19-power-sector-could-kick-start-halted-economy-say-experts-71072

[2] https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/health/karnataka-bangalore-bengaluru-coronavirus-covid-19-lockdown-quarantine-rules-hospitals-mysure-mangalore-health-bulletin-latest-updates/2010765/

[3] https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/economy/covid-19-power-sector-could-kick-start-halted-economy-say-experts-71072

[4] https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/bangalore/bengaluru-citizens-outraged-over-huge-electricity-bills-officials-explain-reason-6408604/

[5] https://www.businesstoday.in/trending/paid-high-electricity-bill-in-june-heres-why-charges-shot-up-after-lockdown/story/408611.html#:~:text=Actress%20Taapsee%20Pannu%20asked%20the,for%20May%20and%20June%20together.

[6] http://bwsmartcities.businessworld.in/article/Smart-meters-Invaluable-in-the-current-scenario-imperative-in-a-post-COVID-world/06-05-2020-191305/

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