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Electricity theft in Delhi & the power of 'theta'

September 16, 2006 15:07 IST

'Power = Voltage x Current x Cos Theta'

Chances are you wouldn't remember this basic physics equation that determines the amount of power that actually flows into the wires going into your house/office.

For the capital's power thieves, located in industrial areas like Bawana to up-market residential areas like Greater Kailash-1, however, this is proving a costly lapse.

Stung by their failure to curb huge power thefts, the capital's distribution companies (the two BSES discoms, BRPL and BYPL, particularly) are now aggressively stepping up surveillance and raids and are using the use of a host of such laws to figure out just where the theft is taking place, in some cases, even down to the street/building where this is happening.

The results are there for all to see. In the case of BRPL, the company doubled the number of raids conducted between April and June this year, and saw the load being billed for rise 2.5 times; for BYPL, both the number of raids and the load booked rose 1.6 times each; for NDPL, there was no major change in the number of raids, but the load billed for rose nearly 1.5 times.

All told, from the time BRPL took over the business in July 2002, Average Technical and Commercial (AT&C) losses have fallen from 48.1 per cent (the company contests this government figure and says the losses were actually 51.4 per cent) to 35 per cent in March this year -- the company's targeting a final figure of under 25 per cent by March next year.

In the case of NDPL, the loss levels fell from 48.1 per cent (the company claims the opening was 53 per cent) to 28.12 per cent last March -- next March's internal target is below 25 per cent.

The story of the theft reduction, contrary to what it may seem, is not just about increasing the number of raids, it's about doing this intelligently. In June this year, BRPL conducted 723 raids as compared to 1,300 in the same month last year, but the value of the theft booked was Rs 17.47 crore (Rs 174.7 million) in June this year as compared to Rs 10.37 crore (Rs 103.7 million) in June 2005.

For BYPL, there was no major change in the raids over the year, but while theft worth Rs 22.65 crore (Rs 226.5 million) was booked in June 2006, it was only Rs 9.2 crore (Rs 92 million) in June 2005.

All electronic meters, installed in the premises of large consumers, measure the voltage at which electricity flows into a house, the current itself and the power factor "q" (theta) -- it is the interaction of the current and "q" that determines the power being consumed.

Here's where the physics comes in. A power thief fiddles with the meter, creates a bypass to allow the electricity to flow to the house unrecorded, and sits back thinking he'll never get caught. Nor would he in the old days when mechanical meters were used.

Today's electronic meters, however, will now show a dramatically altered "q". "If the value of q's over 90 degrees," says Rajesh Prasad, who's down from BSES's Mumbai headquarters to head a 20-member analytics team in Delhi, "it shows the consumer is actually generating power!"

"We've come up with several such sets of logic that are proving extremely helpful," adds Prasad. Other standard formulae used include matching the "active power" and the "reactive power" (again something the old mechanical meters couldn't do) to see if there's bypassing taking place, checking consumption levels against established norms in other cities, and even matching assets (if your books of accounts show you've got 100 ACs, how come the electricity bills don't reflect even half this?), and so on.

Matching assets, for instance, allowed the two BSES discoms to send a bill of Rs 80 crore (Rs 800 million) to a government agency as arrears for four years -- around half of this has been paid up.

Malls in Mumbai paid around Rs 4 per square foot as monthly electricity charges, Prasad discovered, so why were the ones in Delhi paying just Rs 1.5 despite needing more air conditioning? This got BSES an extra Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000) per month from each of three malls whose meters were then checked and fixed -- a similar exercise is being carried out in other malls as you read this piece.

Delhi's CNG pumps, the team found, were using just 15,000 units a month against Mumbai's 50,000 -- this, however, didn't automatically result in any notices, and further investigation showed Delhi pumps were using gas turbines to save on costs -- in one case of a CNG pump in east Delhi, though, BSES' meter analytics revealed the meter had been slowed by 60 per cent.

Carrying this sort of exercise further, BSES has mapped 175 hotels in Karol Bagh alone, the same has been done for all buildings on Mathura Road, for bank ATMs, clinics, the list goes on.

For around 8,000 large users of power who account for 45 per cent of BSES' billings, modems attached to meters allow online reading, where a central computer now does the processing, checking out qs, active and reactive power ratios and so on, on a 24x7 basis.

For another 14 lakh (1.4 million) customers, the meter is downloaded once a month and then subjected to similarly rigorous analytics.

The Tata-owned NDPL, whose loss reduction is far greater, is several steps ahead of the BSES twins. It has actually tagged consumers to each and every of its 3,500 distribution transformers (DTs) from where the power is distributed to households/offices across its territory in the capital, and knows the loss on each one of these.

So, it can say with authority that, for instance, it loses 89.23 per cent of the power distributed through its transformer K 00432 in Bawana that is served by the Kanjhawla Police Station, and Piari Devi (Consumer No. 41200106686) has the largest arrears of Rs 40,020.45!

NDPL, in fact, regularly sends out letter to customers giving the losses on the DTs on which they're situated. "Dear Customer", reads an average letter, "We are constrained to hereby bring to your notice the fact that the locality in which you are located, is fed from a DT at ___ of ___ KVA capacity. The AT&C loss amongst the community of consumers fed from this transformer is ___%."

NDPL was the first to do online meter reading, and has 20,000 customers that cover 60 per cent of its revenue base on this system. A Meter Reading Depository even examines time-of-day usage patterns for any discrepancies.

This has increased the average billing by around 25 per cent in real terms -- NDPL has applied for a patent for its online metering and has various discoms across the country lining up to pay it for consulting help.

A software called Sakshaat, allows a pop-up screen to appear before the call centre executive each time there's a complaint, and he/she tells the customer the outstanding bill amounts as well. The results are dramatic. In the posh Rajpur Road area, losses are down from 30 per cent to around 14 per cent now, in Rohini it's down from 35 to under 9 per cent.

While BSES will take another three-four months to complete such detailed tagging on its 8,500 DTs, it has made a beginning and found, for instance, that there is a 10 percentage point theft in Nehru Place's Hemkunt Towers office complex -- isolating the offices cannot take more than a few weeks.

For the capital's power thieves, life just got a lot tougher. The laws of physics allow little wiggle room.

Sunil Jain
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