Smart prepayment metering for Indian utilities. HES managed prepayment or payment control at the level of meters
According to notification from Ministry of Power from 17th of August 2021 all consumers (other than agricultural consumers) in areas with communication network, shall be supplied electricity with Smart Meters working in prepayment mode with timelines up to 2023 and 2025 depending on types of consumers and level of losses. Areas without communication infrastructure shall be equipped with prepayment meters without AMI functionality.
Smart meters and managed prepayment.
In Indian environment when we talk about AMI enabled meters working in prepaid mode, we mean a managed prepayment, where the meter performs only executive role of connecting and disconnecting relay, as well as delivering consumption data to head-end software. All prepayment functionality is performed by a head-end component – Prepaid Engine. Its role is to regularly receive data from meters about consumption, calculate balance, send notifications to consumers about low credit (sms, mobile app, webportal, email etc), send commands for relay disconnection as balance reaches zero, and command for relay connection as the balance is topped up.
The principle is very simple. Any meter compliant with IS 16444 can be a part of this infrastructure as long as communication with this meter is guaranteed. However namely the communication reliability is the weakest point in such concept.
- What happens if consumer tops up the account but due to lack of communication the meter remains disconnected? How much time shall consumer remain without electricity? How much effort shall be made to send utility employee to turn on the meter locally.
- What happens if due to connection issues utility stops receiving consumption information from the meter and consumer continues consumption with negative balance? How much loss this can potentially generate to utilities
- How much effort and costs should be assumed by utility or by a contractor under DBFOOT model to assure a permanent 100% SLA for communication knowing that none of communication solutions (PLC/RF/Cellular) is ideal.
- Cellular communication has coverage issues and generate huge monthly operational costs.
- PLC /RF solutions are vulnerable to interference. Additionally to this SLA to this type of communication is normally calculated not based on speed of on-demand requests, but rather on success of periodical data transfer (usually till 8:00 AM the following day)
ADDERRA PAYMENT CONTROL
ADD GRUP comes up with ADDERRA payment control solution. The principle of this solution is that meter is given a payment control functionality that is enabled by a special digital token that activates the meter for a specific period of time after expiration of which the meter will disconnect the relay. When electricity is purchased in HES managed mode (be it in kWh or currency), due to AMI communication issues utility might not know when the consumer credit reaches zero or might fail to send relay disconnection command. However when the token activates the meter for a specific period of time (for example 1 calendar month), utility will always know that there is something wrong with the meter if at the day of programmed disconnection the consumer does not come to pay the bill for the new token.
Token transmission and payment processing
- Based on ADDERRA smartphone app. The consumer downloads ADDERRA app and buys the tokens through the app via an integrated payment platform (Stripe, Paypal or any other Indian based). After the token is purchased, it will be send by HES remotely to the meter, if the meter is part of communication solution. Alternatively the consumer can charge the meter with the token using the smartphone app and BLE interface of the meter. Meter reconnection due to lack of communication is no longer an issue
- Based on BLE key-bob. In case the consumer does not have a smart-phone, he can buy tokens from vending point of utility, the cashier will charge the token to key-fob and later send the token from key-fob to the meter. The token can be also sent by HES remotely to the meter, if the meter is part of communication solution.
It is important to note, that before each purchase consumer first has to get the latest data from the meter either to his smart-phone application or to BLE keyfob. These data can be latest consumption values that are being used by HES to generate bill for payment, alarms, event etc. So, no matter whether there is AMI communication with the meter or not, consumer will always serve as a back-up transport channel for such information between meter and HES.
Additional benefit of ADDERRA is that payment control solution does not force utility and consumer to apply prepayment mode only. Based on certain trust (positive or negative payment history) consumer and utility can agree either on deposit of certain amount of money that can cover maximum monthly consumption and at the end of each billing period pay based on the real consumption values or (if payment history is positive) have no deposits at all.
Standalone prepayment vs ADDERRA payment control
Though Ministry of Power demands installation of stand-alone prepayment meters too, managed prepayment is no longer possible , while prepayment method or standard is not specified. Utilities might get lost in a variety of prepayment options proposed by the market for standalone prepayment meters (STS, CTS, keypad and smart cards, standard and proprietary). Use of each option will force utilities to build specific infrastructure (vending and billings stations) as well as will limit the choice of meters and meter vendors compliant to specific prepayment solution. Besides these difficulties meters shall remain stand-alone and thus vulnerable to tampering and electricity theft.
With ADDERRA meters that do not have communication module are no longer stand-alone. The system is structured in such a way, that every time you need to get a new token, you first have to exchange data between meter and key-fob or between meter and smartphone app. The data which are received from the meter can be current consumption and alarms (tampering, power down etc) or any other registers. The keyfob and app will send these data into HES before new token transaction happens. So now the consumer becomes a reliable data carrier and utility having this info from stand-alone meters is much better prepared to deal with electricity theft even without having built communication infrastructure.
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