Smart meter prices in India. How to reduce costs without compromising on quality.

Indian government has suspended smart meter bids under Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS) till 15 March due to multiple issues, one being lack of communication between meters and utlity back-end.

While part of the problem is caused by lack of interoperability among metering solutions available in India, one should not underestimate quality issue reported in many sources (Times of India among them) and pronounced by Indian officials and utility representatives.  This issue is an extremely high fault rate, where hundreds of thousands of meters are reported to be faulty. The problem is related to quality of meter design, as well as quality of used raw materials and electronic components that have a direct negative impact on the quality of the final product, its functionality and performance.

India is a very price sensitive market and given that electricity sector faces serious financial problems caused by electricity losses, there is a constraint of financial resources to finance smart metering programs, which in its turn creates a high price pressure over meter manufacturers.

From the other side meter manufacturers are under high pressure from global economy that faces multiple challenges the last few years. Among them two years pandemic that seriously reduced production outputs; shortage of semiconductors that creates fights between manufacturers for delivery priorities; logistics crisis and lack of containers that almost trippled the cost of maritime transport; cost of plastic and metal has increased by 130% in average; and finally war between Ukraine and Russia and severe sanctions against Russia which will inevitably affect global supply chains and bring costs up.

Meter manufacturers that found themselves under such double pressure have to fight for the price in the bids to the extent, where the only way to remain competitive is to compromise on quality. The meters are designed and made in such a way, that they are able to withstand factory tests and perform in the field for a limited period of time, and just in a while degrading of cheap electronic components and low quality materials starts to influence such critical meter functions as measurement accuracy and communication capability, without which ambitious smart metering program for replacement of 250 million meters risks becoming an enormous waste of money.

It is obvious that high meter prices prices will create a risk of not fulfilling the ambitious smart metering road-map and a lot of consumers will not get a smart meter. However it is even more obvious that low-priced and low quality meters will at some point of time lead to huge financial losses in the middle of roll out.

The is no single solution to this issue and a complex approach is required as to the right choice of meters, meter platforms and communication technologies ideally suitable for different installation scenarios.

Here are few examples of correct network planning:

– Indoor modular meters with cellular modules can be used for commercial and industrial consumers, or for consumers located in areas, where creation of mesh communication network is technically impossible or commercially non-feasible

– Indoor modular meters with fully interoperable Hybrid G3-PLC communication solution (PLC+Radio) can be installed in blocks of flats where meters are installed in apartments

– Group metering solutions are suitable for metering rooms, where low-cost DIN rail meters with BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) interface can communicate via one indoor modular meter with cellular module. In locations where installation space is not an issue,  modular meters without WAN communication module and with BLE interface only can be used in this scenario instead of DIN-rail meters.

– Group metering solutions for meter cabinets with installation on poles, where low-cost DIN rail meters with BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) interface can communicate via one indoor modular meter with Hybrid G3-PLC communication solution, that further communicates in mesh network to a data concentrator.

Definitely from point of project planning it requires a more thorough approach, as to how many meters of each type shall be used per project. However the benefits below are worth the effort:

CAPEX savings through use of low-cost BLE DIN rail meters that are at least 30% less expensive than modular meters

CAPEX savings through decreased number of WAN communication modules per each meter

OPEX savings through decreased number of cellular communication modules that create monthly expenses.

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