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How India’s largest electricity distribution utility uses technology to do automatic energy accounting

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The challenges in  the power sector in India are changing. A few years ago, power generation was the most immediate challenge. Now, power distribution is a major hurdle, as power generated has to be consumed immediately. As the world’s second largest distribution utility, Mahavitaran, faced a similar challenge, and it used the power of technology to transform itself significantly

The power network is a live network. Whatever that is generated has to be consumed immediately. If the generation is not predictable, then power demand management goes for a toss. With more units of energy being sourced from renewable sources, integration of traditional sources of energy like coal with renewable power is a major challenge. Most of the renewable sources of energy barring solar are informal. There is no surety about when the power will come, how much power will come.

IT can play a big role in transforming this sector, as power distribution companies will be in a position to use high end IT for effective power distribution and predicting customer demand. This can play a big role in improving efficiencies, and in generating enough cash to have sustainable operations. This is particularly important as most power distribution companies have been reeling under huge debt. India’s largest electricity distribution utility and the second in the world, MAHAVITARAN, is a case in point.

Using the power of IT, the company has tripped losses to a major extent. The company has used technology as an enabler to provide good services to the customers (this included employees apart from the electricity subscribers) and it was used as a natural tool to understand what’s happening in the network. To improve efficiencies, employees were given mobile apps designed for their tasks. A mobile app was designed for field employees (linesman, meter reader), who could enter field related information directly on the app and did not need to come back to the office to type it out. This was done because MAHAVITARAN realized that external customers could not be serviced without employees being empowered adequately. The subscribers could not be satisfied with an unsatisfied employee base.

Today, when an employee goes on the field for meter reading or to issue a connection, he can just use any smartphone to carry out his work. The moment a connection is issued, there are about 2-3 necessary details to be uploaded. Certain details are prefilled in his app, so that details need not be refilled during every visit such as the mobile number of the consumer or the meter number of the consumer. As soon as the data is uploaded, it is relayed to the company’s server and the bill is generated. This a big saver for the consumer and the company employee. There are no unforeseen hassles for the employee who need not go back to the office to enter the details.
In addition, a separate app has been provided to the lineman to key in details of the change in the feeder, when it malfunctions. A feeder is basically a medium through which power hops to the consumer. At times, the feeder of the distribution lines malfunctions. It takes time to repair it. The lineman in response to public pressure, changes the feeder to restore power. However when the feeder is changed, it is akin to changing a network

Explaining the severity of the problem, Sanjeev Kumar (IAS), CMD, MAHAVITARAN, states, “When the energy accounting happens, there is no compilation of how many feeders were changed in which area. It’s like a wholesaler is sending the goods to a middleman and just before the truck is delivered, the goods are changed and there is no note taken as to what was changed and in how much quantity. This is a common issue that every power company faces.”

To prevent this issue, the company has provided a mobile app to the field staff. Now, every instance of change in feeder is uploaded on the app along with every required detail. These details are relayed to the server. The information is recorded as to which consumers got the electricity from the changed feeder and the details of the feeder that was changed. This has allowed power restoration to the consumers in under 24 hours. Previously, this used to take days. Now, the company knows what’s happening in the network, which wasn’t the case earlier. The apps also capture the geo co-ordinates of the meters, which ensure that the employees in the corporate office know that the information has been uploaded from the location where the meter is based and not from anywhere else. Why is this important? This is important as the company now knows that the employee has actually done the meter reading and the consumer cannot complain about the bill amount being wrong or exaggerated or claim that the meter reader did not visit his house. The employee also takes the photograph of the meter. In case the network is unavailable in the area where the meter reading is done, the phone has the capacity to store about ten thousand meter readings and whenever the network is available, there is automatic data synchronization.

IT initiatives at the back-end

MAHAVITARAN has the mobile numbers of 1.28 crore consumers captured in the system. “In the last one year, we have reached this number from 16 lakh consumers,” claims Kumar. Every time, the data from the meter of the consumer is uploaded from the mobile app, it approximately takes 5 mins to hit the server. Instantly, the consumers get an SMS about the time of the meter reading and the bill amount. This is a great empowerment of the consumer. Previously, it took about a month for consumers to know about these details. When the bill is not delivered, the consumer was clueless. Now, in case, the consumer feels there is an error in the bill, the meter reader can be contacted, based on his geo co-ordinates and asked by the HQ to immediately visit the consumer. 1.28 crore consumers are getting this SMS every month, whenever, their meter is read. Bill due data messages are sent and similarly, other forms of communication are sent to the consumer. In case a consumer is not at home, the meter reader sends a message asking the consumer to upload the meter reading himself on the app that he can download. “In the future, if there is a possibility, we are also exploring whether the consumer can self service and send the data, so, there is no need for the meter reader to personally visit the consumer. While I am attempting to restructure the company, one of the objectives is gaining customer trust, drastically reduce compliance cost and bring in ease of operations of the employees of the company,“ says Kumar.

Energy accounting leads to tripping distribution losses

An important initiative being currently undertaken is restructuring of the ERP. With the availability of real time data coming in through the apps, it enables the company to do the energy accounting on a daily basis, which helps in understanding where the money is being lost or gained. Basically, the role of the distribution company is to purchase electricity from the power generation company and selling it to the consumers. “If I am able to tally the accounts daily, I know, where am I gaining or losing money. The capability developed by MAHAVITARAN to do energy accounting on a daily basis has powered the company to reduce the distribution losses by up to 3 percent, which is about 1500 cr annually,“ claims Kumar.

The biggest challenge any power distribution company in India faces, is energy accounting. Not many companies are able to manage energy accounting on a daily basis. “We are able to do it daily,” claims Kumar. When the energy flows from the service station, from the transmission lines, it gets recorded in the Automatic Meter Reader (AMR). It then comes to the service station of MAHAVITARAN. These service stations are also metered. The company has about 20,000 feeders and 3,000 service stations. These are basically the channels through which the power flows and finally reaches the consumer. Close to 6-7,000 meters are AMR. To get data from the non AMR meters was a challenge. An app has been given to the service station incharge, whose responsibility is to feed the data at least thrice a day. Once a day, is compulsory.

This simple change management exercise has enabled the company to get the data on how much energy flew from a particular feeder. As feeders are segregated on the basis of the geographical configuration (state, region, zone, circle, division, sub-division), the company is able to find out at the end of every month the total amount of energy distributed, on an overall basis and also geographically. “The company has close to accurate data on how much energy flowed in any given month in a particular location. This data helps in comparing the amount of energy flow and the amount billed on that day,” says Kumar. If less amount is billed, it means, there has been a lag in billing. Thus automatic energy accounting becomes possible, and a system generated email is sent to the concerned employees. “I believe, no power distribution company in the country has been thus far been able to reach to the extent of sending data accounted on a daily basis on how much energy was transmitted from the distribution lines and how much was billed,” says Kumar.

Previously, the data about the amount of energy consumed was made available only after 3 months. Now, it’s available daily through the app. Thus, if in a particular area, there is a big mismatch between the energy flow and the amount billed, the concerned employee can be held accountable immediately. What’s noteworthy is the fact that this is a solution built in house. The code was written by the employees of the company. This solution has been shared with the Secretary, Power of the Central Government and also with the Madhya Pradesh Government. Some private firms have showed interest in understanding how this is done at MAHAVITARAN.

The future

The plan now, is to use this system at the Distribution Transformer (DT) level. Every DT has five hundred consumers and it’s relatively easy to pinpoint where the electricity theft is happening based on the energy flowed in a particular DT and the amount billed. The plan is also to use big data analytics in furthering the fight against power theft.

In the next few years, the vision is to bring the information of the entire power distribution network on the mobile; enabling GIS based consumer mapping and identifying areas where the most instances of power theft occur and do a crackdown. Mobile enabling the consumer related information for the employees is also on the cards. The effort is also to engineer processes such that there is no need for the consumer to physically visit the company’s office but complete the formalities sitting at home.


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