Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) is reportedly planning to enter the smart meter market, just as the Indian government plans to install nearly 25 crore of the devices across the country to improve efficiency in electricity distribution. Mint reported that the Mukesh Ambani-led company is planning to use its telecom business Jio to offer meter data collection, communication cards, telecom and cloud hosting services to discoms (distribution companies).
The company will reportedly provide “Narrow Band-Internet of Things (NB-IoT)” services in the smart meter market. Jio has been working with Samsung since 2018 on deploying and expanding a NB-IoT network in the country.
What are smart meters: Smart meters are devices that are connected to the internet, which will ostensibly offer both discoms and consumers the ability to monitor electricity usage. As opposed to currently-prevalent automatic meter reading (AMR) devices, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) devices will allow both parties to monitor consumption in real time. It is expected that this kind of information will help discoms to cut distribution losses.
Jio Platforms, an RIL subsidiary, is currently improving its capacities in internet of things (IoT), blockchain, data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), all of which will likely be useful in its foray in the smart meter market. RIL chairman and managing director Mukesh Ambani told shareholders in June 2020 that its partnership with Facebook and Microsoft would help enhance adoption of these emerging technologies.
The Indian government is planning to install 25 crore smart meters across the country under the Smart Meter National Programme (SMNP) over the next few years, as part of the NDA government’s efforts to reform the power sector. With these devices, the Power Ministry hopes to replace the current manual system of revenue collection from consumers, which leads to “low billing and poor collection efficiencies”. While smart meters have been around for several years, the National Tariff Policy in 2016, had mandated the installation of smart meters for consumers with montly usage over 500 units. While the mandate was removed in a revised policy in 2018, the government has since been promoting the devices through its Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY), Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) and SMNP.
RK Singh, Minister of State (MoS) for Power had noted earlier this year that 15.73% of units had been unbilled in 2018-19 due to faulty meters, wrong-billing and pilferage, things that can be addressed with smart meters.
In her Budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had urged all states and union territories to replace all extant meters with smart ones within three years. She had noted that the aggregate technical and commercial losses (AT&C) losses in the country were at 21.4%, pushing the dues of discoms to ₹72,938 at the end of November 2019.