New Delhi: Union minister for power, new and renewable energy RK Singh on Monday said that smart meters would bring down the cost of electricity by 2-2.5% and also reduce the financial burden of distribution companies (Discoms).
Speaking at a function organised by the Council of Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) here, the power minister said the government had transformed the power sector in the last few years and connected the country to one grid. The smart meter project started with a need – automating the reading of meters and sending electricity bills to 2.90 crore houses on time. Scaling up smart meters will lead to further digitalisation, automation and efficiency of the power system.
The CEEW had organised the event on the theme of ‘National dialogue on smart-metered in India for a digitalised and people-centric power sector’.
Singh, also a former IAS officer, said the consumer would be at the centre of India’s smart meter system. “We are focusing on the rights of consumers and have set up a consumer redressal mechanism to ensure that there is timely resolution of complaints. Accountability now pervades the power system,” he added, while emphasising the role of domestic manufacturers in India’s smart meter transition.
He released the CEEW’s study ‘Enabling a consumer-centric smart metering transition in India’ at the event. The report, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the MacArthur Foundation, found that around 60% of smart meter users surveyed in six Indian states are satisfied with their billing and payment, and would recommend prepaid smart meters to their friends and relatives. Only 20% were unsatisfied with the smart meters installed, while another 20% were neutral about it. 92% consumers also reported a smooth smart meter installation experience, while nearly 50% of the consumers reported improvements in billing regularity since switching to smart meters. India has installed 5.5 million smart meters, of which 97% are deployed in 12 states and UTs.
The CEEW study is based on a survey of nearly 2,700 urban households – covering 1,200 prepaid and 1,500 postpaid consumers – across six Indian states, 18 districts and 10 public discoms. These six states account for 80% of all smart meters installed in India. The survey was facilitated by REC Limited. The study highlighted that around 30% of prepaid users of smart meters recharged more than once a month, with the highest share in Uttar Pradesh (38%). More than a third of the consumers across six states also reported co-benefits such as a greater sense of control over electricity expenses, a drop in electricity theft, and improved power supply to the locality.
Secretary, power ministry, Alok Kumar said, “Smart metering is very important from the consumer’s perspective. Wrong or delayed billing is a bane. Prepaid metering is the core of fixing this issue. If consumers are satisfied, then they are willing to pay for the services. This is a revolution.”
Vivek Kumar Devangan, chairman and managing director, REC Ltd., said, “Smart meters are a game changer in power sector reforms. The studies released today will help us formulate a people-centric power sector.”
CEO, CEEW, Arunabha Ghosh said, “India’s ambitious drive to link smart meters to all electricity connections would not only make consumers active participants in the country’s energy transition but could also significantly improve the financial health of discoms. Discoms must leverage smart metering infrastructure to deliver affordable and quality electricity services to consumers by improving operational efficiency and integrating distributed renewables into the grid cost-effectively.”
70% consumers still like receiving power bills in hard copy
The CEEW study also highlighted challenges faced by consumers as part of the nationwide smart meters rollout. Due to gaps in digital literacy and limited awareness of smart meter apps, many consumers rely solely on SMS updates, which do not provide a breakup of bills. As a result, 70% consumers ike to continue receiving paper bills. Also, only half of the consumers were aware of smart meter mobile apps, and just 45% use them.
Smart meter app usage highest in Bihar
Smart metre app usage was highest in Bihar (80%), followed by Assam (47%). However, app usage was extremely low in Haryana (14%) and Madhya Pradesh (13%). Further, nearly 12% consumers reported that paying bills had become difficult since the switch to smart meters for multiple reasons: fear of disconnection upon failing to recharge in time, cash flow issues, and barriers to digital payments.
Majority of prepaid smart meter users satisfied
The study also highlighted that a higher share of prepaid smart meter consumers were satisfied (63%) compared to postpaid consumers (55%). However, very few postpaid users were willing to switch to prepaid mode due to a lack of awareness, status quoism, and fear of disconnection.
Clear-cut guidelines needed on prepaid smart meter
Shalu Agrawal, senior programme lead, CEEW, said, “Currently, provisions governing prepaid smart meters in India are scattered across different regulatory orders and directives, which makes them inaccessible to key stakeholders, especially consumers. The central power ministry and the state electricity regulators should consider issuing smart (prepaid) meter guidelines to ensure a uniform consumer experience.”
The transition to smart metering should include consumers as important allies by making consumer-friendly policies and engaging with them. The CEEW study recommends that discoms spread sustained awareness of the benefits and features of smart meters and their mobile apps. They should continue giving paper bills and slowly phase them out. Prepaid consumers must get timely alerts and diverse payment options to facilitate a smooth recharge experience and dispel the fear of disconnection.
Study on advance meter infrastructure released
CEEW also released the study ‘Making India’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Resilient’ at the event. The study finds that discoms require deeper technical support to implement the existing rules on cyber security of AMI and to improve their preparedness against cyber threats. Based on an analysis of contracts signed between discoms and AMI service providers in five states, the study recommends that important clauses of these contracts should be uniform across states to reduce vulnerability to cyber threats, and that incentives for information disclosure by discoms and vendors need to be strengthened by regulators.