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Who will bell the (expensive) cat?

The CALMU meter was a class masterpiece, but when it first appeared in the marketplace, in 1987, no one was ready to purchase and use it. The main reasons for hesitation were:

  • Engineers had great faith in the Ferraris wheel meter
  • CALMU is a dumb meter with no rotating parts and utility engineers did not understand how it worked
  • Cost was high
  • It was not certified by the weight and measurement laboratory for commercial use and could not be used to generate bills
  • It had not been approved by the Electrical Inspector
  • The Ministry of Power had not granted permission for its use.

After many discussions with late K K Yadav ji and having tested and observed the meter’s intelligence, I developed high faith during the development stage. To convince others about the features and usage, specifically to attain the support of my seniors at AECo, I presented them with detailed specifications, which they liked very much. It was not easy to convince the MD (an IAS officer) or the ED (a matured technocrat) to take the next step, but putting things in black and white on an internal letter – a personal ownership document – that the money spent would be recovered in a year, and furthermore that there would be a clear profit, both of them gave me the nod. AECo invited quotations and placed an order for eighteen meters – ten for 11KV customers and eight for LV customers (as I remember).

With CALMU, we discovered the methods adopted by consumers for under-registration and meter tampering; the cost of the initial purchase was recovered within six months.

In AECo we were not using trivector meters for 11 KV customers, but had a practice of installing two separate meters instead – one for KWH with KW MaxDemand and another for measuring RKVAH. I replaced the RKVAH meter with the CALMU, since the RKVAH had no impact on billing – bills being generated from data gathered by the KWH-KW meter, whilst the RKVAH was used to calculate the average monthly power factor (PF) and every customer was very much aware of the need to maintain the PF above 0.95 to avoid having an impact on billing. We used the information from the CALMU to enrich our revenue by following the practices mentioned below:

  • Comparing the KWH reading from the existing meter with the CALMU reading for 3-4 days (not at the end of the month) and immediately replacing the Ferraris wheel meter if found to be slow.
  • After installing the CALMU, we discovered the methods adopted by consumers for under-registration and meter tampering and recovered a heavy amount from customers after catching them red-handed. Authentic assessment and convincing such customers, based on the data from CALMU, was easy. The cost of the initial purchase was recovered within six months. The accounts department doubted the recovery. Following a resolution from the Board of Directors, a special audit was undertaken which confirmed that the actual recovery shown by me was on the lower side.
  • Those were the days of managing the peak demand by enforcing recess staggering (half our recess) during all three shifts. From load survey data, we were effectively able to assess the observation of recess timings and to discipline customers accordingly. Government and Electrical Inspectors were happy and appreciated the effect derived by using CALMU.
  • To manage statewide peak loading, the staggered holiday was in force. In Ahmedabad, we had two zones observing holiday – 50 per cent on Thursday and 50% on Sunday. Using load survey data of power usage on the staggered holiday, we set the customer right and garnered the required effect on the system demand and related monitory benefits. The Government and Electrical Inspectors could see the effect of staggering and the effectively controlled demand of Ahmedabad city.
  • During the late 80’s every state was facing acute power shortages. HT customers were required to observe a demand cut of nearly 30 per cent and some days it was 40 per cent. Daily demand cut was declared the previous evening on the radio, while customers were allowed to use full demand during night hours. With Ferraris wheel meters, we had no alternative but to send out Meter Inspectors in the evenings and early mornings to read and reset the demand pointer. The overtime payments and transport charges were very costly. In such manual processes, one cannot avoid a few malpractices. After installing CALMU meters, we were able to avoid these unproductive expenses, to discipline the customer and to satisfy the government with authentic data.

In 1989, AECo gave a presentation to the government and state utility to demonstrate how intelligently the system can be managed. Our experience became the case study which other utilities referred to and all swiftly recognised that their future lay in CALMU technology.

-G K Panchal