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Editorial of the Day: Switching on India’s Smart Electricity Future (The Hindu)

Context: The article is discussing a future where smart electricity meters provide consumers with information and advice on their electricity usage. Specifically, it highlights India’s current initiative to replace conventional electric meters with prepaid smart meters, with a target of replacing 250 million meters by 2025-26. The article also mentions that the initiative is being supported by a results-linked grant-cum-financing of the government to help power distribution companies (discoms) become financially sound and efficient in delivering better services to consumers. However, despite these efforts, there are still challenges that need to be addressed for the initiative to be successful.

Switching on India’s Smart Electricity Future Background

What is the Smart Meter National Programme?

  • The Smart Meter National Programme is an initiative by the Government to deploy smart meters across the country.
  • The programme aims to enhance consumer convenience and rationalize electricity consumption.

Smart Meters:

  • Smart meters are advanced meter devices that have the capacity to collect information about energy, water, and gas usage at various intervals.
  • The data is transmitted through fixed communication networks to the utility and can also receive information like pricing signals from the utility and convey it to consumers.

Deployment of Smart Meters:

  • Under the Smart Meter National Programme, a total of 12,06,435 smart meters have been installed till date.
  • The deployment of smart meters is expected to increase in the coming years, as India aims to transform its energy mix with innovation.

Benefits of Smart Meters:

  • One of the key benefits of smart meters is the reduction of Aggregate Technical and Commercial (AT&C) losses.
  • India aims to reduce AT&C losses to below 12% by 2023 and below 10% by 2027.
  • Smart meters minimize human intervention in metering, billing, and collection, and help reduce theft by identifying loss pockets.

Smart Meters and Smart Grid:

  • Smart meters are a crucial component of the Smart Grid.
  • The Smart Grid includes the creation of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), which describes the whole infrastructure from smart meter to a two-way communication network to control center equipment and applications that enable the gathering and transfer of energy usage information in near real-time.
  • The implementation of smart meters will enable the creation of a more efficient and reliable energy system.


  • Operational Benefits: Smart meters provide several operational benefits, such as:
    • Incentivizing energy conservation by detecting data-entry errors and billing efficiencies.
    • Reducing the costs of manual meter reading through a web-based monitoring system.
    • Smart meters can switch to a prepaid mode, eliminating the need for postpaid billing.
  • Benefits to Customers:
    • Enhancing consumer satisfaction through better complaint management, system stability, reliability, and transparency.
    • Time of Day (ToD) tariff feature, which allows consumers to reschedule electricity usage to off-peak hours, resulting in a significant reduction in the bill amount.


  • High Capital Costs:
    • The full-scale deployment of smart meters requires significant expenditures on hardware and software components, network infrastructure, network management software, installation, and maintenance of information technology systems.
    • The cost can be a significant challenge for utilities, especially in countries with a large customer base.
  • Integration:
    • Smart meters are a complex system of technologies that must be integrated with utilities’ information technology systems. This includes Customer Information Systems (CIS), Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Outage Management Systems (OMS), Mobile Workforce Management (MWM), Distribution Automation System (DAS), and other such systems.
    • Integration can be a challenge, and requires careful planning and execution to ensure the systems work together seamlessly.
  • Standardization:
    • Interoperability standards need to be defined for smart meters to ensure uniform requirements for technology, deployment, and general operations.
    • The lack of standardization can lead to interoperability issues, making it difficult for utilities to integrate smart meters with other systems.
  • Release of Radiation:
    • Smart meters allow communication between the consumer and the meter, which may lead to a release of radiation.
    • This has been a concern for some consumers and has led to debates on the safety of smart meters.
    • While studies have shown that the radiation levels are within safe limits, the perception of risk remains a challenge for utilities.

Decoding the Editorial

The article envisions a future where electricity meters provide consumers with advice on their electricity usage

  • Smart Meters:
    • These meters inform the consumers about their energy consumption during different times of the day, seasons, and months.
    • The smart meter would also notify users about changes in power tariffs, making it easier for them to plan their activities during low-tariff periods.
    • Additionally, it would suggest replacing energy-inefficient appliances with new, efficient ones, and even enable the trading of solar power with peers through a mobile app.
  • India’s Vision:
    • India is striving hard to implement this vision by installing more than 5.5 million smart meters, with over 100 million sanctioned for installation.
    • The country aims to replace 250 million conventional electric meters with prepaid smart meters by 2025-26.
    • To support this initiative, India is providing a results-linked grant-cum-financing to power distribution companies (discoms) to become financially sound and efficient in providing better services to consumers.
  • Significance:
    • A recent study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) found that the majority of smart meter users have already begun to experience some of the technology benefits.
    • The study covered about 2,700 urban households that use prepaid or postpaid smart meters across six States.
    • Half the users reported improvements in billing regularity, and two-thirds said paying bills had become easier.
    • Around 40% of users alluded to multiple co-benefits such as a greater sense of control over their electricity expenses, a drop in instances of electricity theft, and improved power supply to the locality.
    • In fact, 70% of prepaid smart meter users said they would recommend the technology to their friends and relatives.
    • These findings give confidence that India’s smart metering transition is heading in the right direction.
  • Challenges:
    • While the adoption of smart meters in India has shown positive results, there are still some obstacles to overcome.
      • For instance, the study found that half of the smart meter users were not using the mobile app, which could be an indication that the app is not user-friendly or not providing enough value to the users.
      • Additionally, many users were unable to access detailed electricity bills, which left them uncertain about how their bills were being calculated and what deductions were being made.
    • Resolving these issues is important to ensure the successful implementation of smart meters in India and bring about a smart-meter revolution.
  • Steps towards achieving this goal: To ensure the success of this initiative, the government and other stakeholders must adopt a user-centric approach to design and deploy smart meters. The author recommends the following steps:
    • Nationwide Campaign to Educate:
      • The Ministry of Power should launch a nationwide campaign to educate consumers about the benefits of smart meters and make smart meter apps more accessible to users from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.
      • The apps should provide useful information and tips to users, which would help improve their experience with smart meters.
      • The benefits of the technology can be understood via user satisfaction which is possible only via their ability to access and understand online bills. Thus accessibility should be ensured.
      • States like Assam and Bihar, have seen high user satisfaction and adoption rates, which provides learning opportunities for other States to scale up the usage of smart meters.
    • Active Participation of Discoms:
      • To ensure the successful deployment of smart meters in India, distribution companies (discoms) need to play a more active role in the process.
      • Currently, most smart meters in India are being deployed by Advanced Metering Infrastructure Service Providers (AMISPs) who are responsible for the installation and operation of the AMI system for the project’s duration.
      • However, discoms should work closely with AMISPs to ensure that the installation and recharge process for smart meters is smooth and user-friendly.
      • Discoms should also leverage the data provided by smart meters for revenue protection and customer engagement.
      • To do so, discoms will need to strengthen their internal capacity through suitable staffing and training interventions.
    • Developing Scalable Data Solutions:
      • Discoms, system integrators, and technology providers need to work together to develop new and scalable data solutions for smart meters.
      • The effective use of smart meter data is crucial to unlocking the full benefits of smart metering, and this requires an ecosystem that encourages innovation in analytics, data hosting, and sharing platforms.
      • The key actors should collaborate and experiment with new solutions that can be scaled up to bring more value to consumers and the power sector.
    • Unlocking New Retail Markets:
      • Policymakers and regulators need to take action to empower consumers and unlock new retail markets in the smart metering sector.
      • This can be achieved through the incorporation of important provisions related to paper bills, arrear adjustment, recharge alerts, data privacy, and other factors within existing State frameworks.
      • The regulators should also simplify and innovate tariff design and open the retail market to new business models and prosumagers.
      • The recent proposal by the Ministry of Power to enable time-variable tariffs for all smart meter users is seen as a progressive step towards achieving this goal.

Beyond the Editorial

Other Energy Efficiency Initiatives:

According to Power Ministry’s report on the “Impact of energy efficiency measures”, apart from smart meters, there are several other energy efficiency measures that India can undertake, including:

  • Energy-efficient building design: Promoting the use of energy-efficient building design and construction practices, such as better insulation, passive solar heating, and energy-efficient lighting and appliances, can significantly reduce energy consumption in buildings.
  • Industrial energy efficiency: Encouraging large industries to adopt energy-efficient technologies and practices, such as high-efficiency motors, boilers, and compressed air systems, can help reduce energy consumption and costs.
  • Efficient transportation: Promoting the use of public transportation, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient vehicles can help reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.
  • Renewable energy: Increasing the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and hydropower, can reduce dependence on fossil fuels and help mitigate climate change.
  • Energy conservation awareness: Raising awareness about the importance of energy conservation and promoting energy-efficient behaviour can help reduce energy consumption and costs.

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