Headquartered in Guwahati, Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL) is responsible for supplying electricity to all the districts in the state, and caters to a customer base of around 6.02 million. APDCL has been undertaking investments in a number of technology areas to modernise and upgrade its network. These initiatives include the use of smart meters, supervisory control and data acquisition systems, spot billing and meter data acquisition systems. This move has helped the utility to weather the pandemic. Going forward, the discom plans to implement smart metering with advanced metering infrastructure, besides incorporating AI-based solutions.
Key technology initiatives
One of the key initiatives undertaken by APDCL has been a migration from decentralised software for metering, billing and collection (MBC) to a more centrally managed in-house MBC and customer relationship management applications. The MBC software was extremely expensive for the company to use for catering to the majority of its rural customer base. This transition is expected to reduce APDCL’s expenditure substantially. The entire consumer base, including consumers covered under the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme Part A, are being migrated to the APDCL Revenue Management System. As of December 2020, the billing for 5.5 million out of APDCL’s 6.1 million consumers has been shifted to the new software, for uniformity and better consumer response.
Further, APDCL’s in-house IT team has designed and developed a spot billing Android-based mobile app, APDCL e-suvidha. It also captures the route map of the meter reader-cum-spot biller, thereby ensuring that no bills are prepared without visiting consumer premises. This encourages consumer engagement and reduces complaints, dependence on third-party implementers and recurring expenditure. It also ensures proper monitoring of the meter reading and billing process, and timely receipt of bills by consumers, providing them adequate time for payment. This mechanism has brought down revenue expenditure linked to meter reading, bill preparation and bill despatching by half, in turn reducing lag times related to the delivery of bills to customers, thus contributing to faster revenue turnovers for the company, ensuring consistency in meter monitoring, and lowering the rate of fraud.
SANJOG is another in-house mobile application designed and developed by APDCL’s IT team for releasing new connections on the spot. Photos of the beneficiaries, as well as their ID and address proof documents can be scanned and uploaded on the app.
APDCL has also incorporated an AI-based solution in the spot billing mobile app e-suvidha. In this solution, the meter reader clicks a photo of the meter and the app takes the reading from the photo itself, thereby eliminating human intervention. Instead of traditional technologies such as optical character recognition, AI models are used to extract the reading from the meter photo. The pilot run of the prototype is in progress. The first phase of the pilot has shown a success rate of 98 per cent.
Weathering the pandemic
The Covid-19 crisis impacted the discom’s operations to a certain extent; however, it has managed to stay afloat during this difficult time. During the lockdown, smart meters as well as AMR modems (for high tension consumers) were successfully used to fetch the actual meter readings of consumers.
APDCL is connected to the Bharat Bill Pay network and is integrated with all major payment banks/wallets. It has also designed a mobile app, APDCL Easy Pay, which functions just like the local area payment units used by mobile service providers. Collection agents authorised by APDCL are able to use this app for door-to-door collection in rural areas. This app went live in June 2020.
While APDCL continues to lose money in aggregate technical and commercial losses, it is expected that the company’s efforts towards grid modernisation, smart metering and technology integration in payment and billing solutions will see it grow in the years to come.