Oracle Utilities recently announced its agreement with a Bangladesh state-owned utility to provide its smart meter data management (MDM) as part of a broad modernization plan for its electric power system.
The roll-out of thousands of smart meters throughout two states in northern Bangladesh will be the first steps in a groundbreaking effort to modernize, and digitalize, the nation’s electric power service.
We discussed this undertaking with Oracle Utilities Kesavan Krishnan, JAPAC sales director based in Singapore.
In general terms, discuss the state of the Bangladesh electric power system
Kesavan: Bangladesh has a large population (160 million). The electric system is run by the Ministry of Power in a loosely decentralized system. There are about eight state-owned power companies in Bangladesh.
All of the state-owned power companies are running older legacy systems, and about 95% of their customers are pre-paid. The majority of power customers are limited income. Customers go to a kiosk to get a pre-paid card with a 42 digit PIN that they put into their meter. It’s very cumbersome.
Currently there is no smart metering system in the country, but the drive is to go digital, and enable customers to go digital. Theft of electric power is a major concern for the utilities, and this effort will reduce pilferage, and hopefully help revamp the pre-paid system.
What is the goal of the AMI build-out?
Kesavan: By increasing the efficiency of the power grid, Bangladesh utilities expect to see several benefits from the AMI build. Going AMI is one step toward replacing the aging infrastructure. The current metering system is decades old, and utilities see this as an opportunity to move to AMI. They had to start replacing the older meters, and the move to smart meters is a big step. Adding the MDM to run the system is an equally important move.. They wanted a system that was associated with a well-known and established company that had a long history in this area, and that’s why they went with Oracle Utilities.
This is the first step toward this system. The intention is to continue the improvements, eventually moving to a digital billing and payment platform as well. It’s part of a gradual shift to enhance the system, and digitally engage customers as the ultimate goal.
Are customers ready for digital engagement?
Kesavan: Mobile phone penetration in Bangladesh is not massive, but there is a large group of customers, roughly 50%, that want that digitalization movement. The country is definitely moving along a trajectory toward digitalization in several ways.
The reality is that large parts of the country, especially rural customers, don’t have adequate electric power service. Customers are used to load shedding, and daily outages of 3-4 hours is routine. People adjust their lifestyle to these outages. With AMI the expectation is there will be increased efficiency in the power grid, and that this can help everybody get access. So, there’s definitely a social aspect to this effort, by providing a wider, and more efficient power system, there will be less outages, and rural customers will have necessary basic electric service.
With MDM, utilities will be collecting large amounts of data. How does the utility plan to use that data?
Kesavan: With the additional, and frequent data, the utilities, would like to use that insight to help customers understand their usage, and optimize the use of electricity. On top of this, the data will allow utilities to enable pre-paid customers to top up electronically and pre-warn them in case of low balance so they get uninterrupted supply to their homes. Also on the utility’s perspective, moving customers to a digital platform enhances the customer experience and at the same time lowers the cost to serve with less payment counters.
Is there a timeline for the build out?
Kesavan: The health crisis has definitely delayed the rollout. The post-COVID-19 scenario is very challenging, especially in the densely populated urban areas. The physical task of changing meters, and keeping workers, and customers safe is a difficult job. Hopefully the project can move forward in the coming months starting with the larger industrial customers, and then move to residential areas.
Over time, it’s likely we will see other utilities will begin adopting these changes. In a few years, it’s possible that Bangladesh will have a modernized, efficient, and accessible electric power system for all levels of customers in the country.
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