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Implementing GIS at a privatized Indian power utility pays for itself in just over 3.5 years

At the India Geospatial Forum in Hyderabad, I moderated a session on electric power. It turned out ot be an absolutely fascinating conversation with a wide range of speakers representing different aspects of the Indian power industry.

Arup Ghosh, Chief Technology Officer at Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd (TPDDL) presented an insightful view into implemnenting GIS from the prespective of a private utility. Only 5% of India's power industry is private, but the private sector seems to be leading a transformation of the Indian power industry in a number of areas.

Mr Ghosh pointed out that a major challenge for the electric power industry in India is that distribution is chaotic and this is primarily because of financing. The numbers that Mr Ghosh intimated convey just how big a problem this is. Distrubution companies owe financial institutions Rs 200,000 crores ($33 billlion). Consumers owe the power distribution companies Rs 60,000 crores ($10 billion). According to official statistics aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses (non-revenue generating) amounts to 30% of total power generated, but for some parts of the country the rate of AT&C losses is much higher. For example, when TPDDL was privatized, its AT&C rate was 52%. over half of its power was non-revenue generating.


Mr. Ghosh offered some very interesting statistics and lessons learned from TPDDL's implementation of GIS. In 2006 TPDDL invested Rs 12 crores ($2 million) in implementing a GIS. Annual maintenance and operations for the GIS cost Rs 1.5 crores ($250,000). The estimated annual rate of return on the investment is Rs 4 crores ($700,000) per year. It is estimated that the investment in GIS paid for itself in 3.5 to 4 years.

Mr. Ghosh offered some valuable insights based on TPDDL's experience in implementing GIS.

  1. When implementing GIS there need to be a clear roadmap where the business processes that will use GIS are identified. Mr Gosh was able to provide very specific statistics for TPDDL. It has 360 business processes, of which 40 leverage GIS.
  2. To optimize the value derived from GIS, it has to be integrated with other enterprise systems. Mr Ghosh specifically mentioned ERP, CRM, DMS, outage management (OMS), and electric network modeling (SYME).
  3. For the long term success of GIS, it important to make sure that a robust schema is developed for the database in which land base, customer, and facility information is stored. In Mr Ghosh's experience It is very difficult to rework a poorly structured database.

The major implementation challenges that TPDDL experienced were

  • Developing the land base – In India utiltiies have to put this together themselves from high resolution satellite imagery, field surveys, and a variety of source sof geographic and demographic data sources. Private utilities experience a challenge in accessing satellite data (from Indian or international sources) because access to satellite data is controlled by the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) and private companies are not permitted direct access to satellite imagery.
  • Consumer Data – One of the major data challenges in India as in other jurisdictions is relating consumers to the power network, linking consumers to a specific phase, transformer, feeder and substation.
  • Data is perishable – if a field survey requires 6 months, the data collected can quickly become obsolete. Business processes need to implemented that are designed to optimize and maintain data quality.
  • Finding and recruiting skilled GIS professionals. The GIS group at TPDDL has about 60 field personnel and 18 analysts and support staff. None of these has an educational background in GIS. My understanding was that 12 are electrical engineers and the rest are people with electric power experience. All have learned GIS "on the fly". Mr Ghosh said the major problem is that engineering facilities do not include GIS in their curriculum.

Mr Ghosh reiterated several times that this has to be treated as a business process reengineering activity, not just a matter of installing new software and initiating data cleanup and field survey projects. Maintaining data quality required changing business processes.

  • Keeping the land base uptodate – new developments such as subdivisions (estates) and renovations to existing sites are occurring continually and the utility has to implement processes to ensure these changes are captured.
  • Ensuring the facilities database was uptodate – new subdivisions and renovations to existing sites means new electric power circuits and equipment. In addition the power network requires replacement and upgrading (reinforcement). Business processes that ensure these changes are captured ina timely fashion in the facilities databae are required. Many utilities have as-built backlogs that extend to months and even years.
  • Updating consumer data – consumers move, they get disconnected and reconnected, and increasingly they may be requesting new serrvices. a business process that ensures these changes are captures in a timely fashion is required.
  • Dynamic revision of consumer indexation – ensuring that each consumer is linked to the corrrect phase, transformer, feeder, and substation is a challenge the world over.

TPDDL realized a number of important benefits as a result of implementing a GIS program.

Asset Management:

Streamlined by integrating GIS and DMS and GIS and SAP.
Reduced redundant data by implementing a single source of truth for asset data.
The asset lifecycle was streamlined by integrating GIS, CYME, SAP and financial asset management.
This helped TPDDL optimize their capital expenditure and investment planning.

Operation Management:

Integrating GIS and DMS for their 11KV network, and integrating GIS and OMS (outage management) helped them improve outage management. The network diagram extracted from the GIS was used for operations and streamlining the permit to work (PTW) process. The asset attributes data stored in the GIS improved maintenance planning and scheduling.
Perhaps the biggest operational benefit is that GIS helped TPDDL understand the causes of their technical losses and plan for mitigation.

Commercial Management:

Being able to exactly geolocate their customers, and link each customer to phase, transformer, feeder, and substation has helped provide better services and their collections efficiency which is now 99.7%.
Their pole inventory has also been implemented in their GIS as are street lights.
GIS has also helped them automate customer connection/disconnection and speed uo revenue generation. it has also helped with being able to respond more rapidly to power availability requests from high demand consumers.

Based on their GIS and other initiatives, TPDDL has been able to reduce their AT&C loss percentage to the low double digits with the intention to get this down to single digits. Based on TPDDL's experience implementing their GIS, Mr Ghosh offered some recommendations for regulators and government policy makers.

  • Availability of satellite images – Must be made available to private sector.
  • Regulators should encourage investment in GIS – Investment linked with clearly defined benefits and transparently calculated IRR.
  • Regulators should encourage GIS-based asset management – Planning, creating, maintaining, moving and retiring electricity network assets should be implemented through a GIS.
  • Preferential funding for GIS-supported capex schemes – Banks and other funding agencies should recognise GIS-supported capex scheme as superior with better assured returns.
  • Training and skill development – this is a major challenge. Engineering faculties do not include geospatial in theri curriculum and there does not appear to be a link between the colleges and universities that do include geospatial in their curriculum and utilities.