Q&A With CyanConnode’s John Cronin: India Loses ~$32bn/Year in Electricity Billing
CyanConnode, a British technology company based in Cambridge, has also been present in India for the past 8 years. The rather interesting product that they have in India right now is the OmniMesh smart electricity metering system that is designed to not only optimise the usage of electricity, but also to move a lot of the power usage to the off-peak hours by giving consumers the statistics to modify electricity usage at homes and also commercial spaces. At the London Tech Week, News18 sat down with John Cronin, the Executive Chairman of CyanConnode to understand how the technology works, and how the journey has been so far in India as well as how the OmniMesh ties in with the electricity for all project of the Narendra Modi government.
The Ministry of Power of the Government of India has said they want to roll out as many as 35 million smart meters in the next few years. The Uday program of the government of India says that if electricity companies shift to smart metering systems, the government will take as much as 70 percent of their debt and convert them into government bonds. At present, CyanConnode smart meters are installed in multiple states, including in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Gujarat and Mumbai. Edited excerpts.
What exactly is the Omnimesh smart metering solution?
This is a product we built and developed around India, and that’s really important for us. We listened to what the central electricity authorities were wanting, what the Ministry of Power were aiming for and we listened to our customers. We have developed an open standards product, which is this OmniMesh product. From the earlier days of the proprietary systems, we have moved to open standards. With UK shareholders investing in India over a number of years, it has been very successful. The new generation of the OmniMesh which we only launched last year—and we already have orders for £15 million in this short period of time.
This is now being deployed and the utilities can see the benefits of OmniMesh. India loses around $32 billion a year when they generate electricity and distribute it but not collect cash for it. What we do is help them improve the billing efficiency. Within some of the utilities, the losses are anywhere between 20-40 percent. We have helped them improve the collection efficiency by 25 percent, and also the electricity usage has gone down.
Is this for home users or aimed at commercial usage?
This is primarily for home users. People can actually see how much electricity they are using at any given time. Every fifteen minutes, the data refreshes and identifies where they have used electricity, what it’s consuming electricity and the cost of that electricity. It actually helps the grid also prepare their budgets, and helps them identify where to build the substations and install transformers.
What are time of day tariffs?
The utilities want to move people away from heavy electricity usage, all at the same time. We want to encourage people to use their electricity, lets say at midnight for white goods and cooking etc., when the utility can provide a lower tariff. The tariffs can reduce by as much as 50 percent.
How big are the advantages of using a smart metering system?
The population of India and the rest of the world is growing. We have a shortage of energy resources, and we have to make better use of the energy we have today. That’s why it is important from the green and carbon point of view. For the consumer, it is important from the budgeting point of view, to see how much they are spending. With smart pre-paid metering, people can actually look at the purse and the affordability and keep the lights on and keep enough for cooking. For the utilities, it is all about the infrastructure.
How is the data transferred from a smart meter to the electricity utilities company?
What we have is a hybrid communications platform. We work with strategic meter suppliers in India, including Larsen & Toubro, HPL and Genus. We put a module in their meters, and these make their meters become smart. Over a radio network, you can have meters of 200 homes connect with a gateway which is a small device the size of an alarm box installed somewhere in the locality. The data goes to that gateway, and from that gateway, a mobile GPRS connection backhauls it over to the utilities company. We have a software that goes into the billing system. A utility can look at a screen to see all houses that have smart meters and the usage in each. If someone tampers with the meter, the utilities can get an alert. If there is a fault with the meter, the utilities are alerted.
Doesn’t this raise the question of data privacy?
The beauty of our solution is that it is a closed network for the utility. The mobile network will not access the data. The encrypted data goes from the consumer’s meter to the server installed by the utility for their billing system. We also cannot see that data. It is just between the customer and the electricity company. Believe you me, we have spent years of looking at encryption and security to ensure it is good for all.