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Home News Power Sector News Pilferage of electricity – Issues and challenges

Pilferage of electricity – Issues and challenges

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Electricity theft is a social evil.  Electrical energy worth billions of dollars is stolen from

Say No to Power Theft

the utilities globally every year. These costs are routinely passed on to the customers in the form of higher energy charges. Utilities are trying hard to find ways to combat it. Any interference with proper recording of meter or diversion of electricity from main power line is a theft. Most of the countries have realized the importance of this evil and formulated strict laws to curb theft of electricity. India, too, realized the  effect of electricity theft decades ago, formulated rules, and later modified the same a few times. The western countries and India have treated this as a criminal offence.

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Electricity theft is a social evil.  Electrical energy worth billions of dollars is stolen from the utilities globally every year. These costs are routinely passed on to the customers in the form of higher energy charges. Utilities are trying hard to find ways to combat it. Any interference with proper recording of meter or diversion of electricity from main power line is a theft. Most of the countries have realized the importance of this evil and formulated strict laws to curb theft of electricity. India, too, realized the  effect of electricity theft decades ago, formulated rules, and later modified the same a few times. The western countries and India have treated this as a criminal offence.
But crooks always have the ability to keep one step ahead of the theft detection system. They stay in business purely through their flair to overcome any challenge that comes their way. They will find ways to be ahead of any Anti power theft detection system and will try to hoodwink the vigilance wing. Gone are the days of crude mechanical ways to tamper with the meter or divert electricity from main line. The R&D of electricity theft is moving faster than that of the best metering mechanisms, which was revolusioned with the advent of ICs and programmable logic circuits. Sharp minds frame laws and invent technologies; sharper minds find loopholes in it. Now power theft using the remote sensing devices, tampering of crystal frequency of integrated circuits; theft using harmonics etc.have been developed.
The money power involved in this game is beyond imagination. There is power theft all over the world. Like any other commodity, electricity also can be stolen. Generally, people including those in law enforcement agencies, find it hard to believe, still harder to prove. Theft is commonly believed to happen when something is seen taken without knowledge or consent of the owner. But electrical energy cannot be seen to be taken. This makes the detection and bringing to book the culprits engaged in illegal abstraction of energy really challenging. Power theft exists wherever there is use of power. No country in the world is an exception, only the percentage may vary. In one country, the theft may be mainly for operating air conditioners while at another it may be for operating heaters for escaping the cold climatic condition.   
World wide the energy loss (and Theft) exceeds the total electricity demand of Germany, UK and France, the third, fourth, and fifth largest economies of the world. It is estimated that utilities of developed countries alone lose 500 million dollars every year by way of AT&C losses. Various electricity utilities in India lost Rs.25, 259 crores by way of AT&C Loss at the beginning of this decade. Of the above Rs. 1260 crores is by way of pilferage. Kerala ranked as the sixth among various states in India as far as AT&C losses are concerned.

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Why people pilfer energy?
The answer is not for direct monetary gain in all cases. In certain industries, the excise duty, sales tax, etc. are determined based on the actual consumption of energy. In order to evade these expenses, some pilfer energy. During the period of power cut, there was theft to remain within the restrictions imposed to utilities only. Inclusion of the word ‘tampered meter’ in section 126 also causes confusion when power theft goes high tech and can be performed without meddling with the meter. The above two sections should be applied appropriately to achieve the result intended in the Act.
The Electricity Act 2003 gives full freedom to vigilance engineers in detecting power theft, confiscating machineries, papers, document related to production etc. and permits utilities to frame their own rules. In 2003,the ordinance for Electricity Act, Kerala was promulgated which became extinct as Government Of Kerala failed to present the same before the assembly. Kerala happens to be one of the very few states where there is no legislation to curb power theft. Law remains in book only. But application of the same is under severe constraints. Once the constraints removed KSEB may fetch Rs.250 crore per annum additionally.

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The first case of pilferage of energy by a major HT consumer in India was detected in Andhra Pradesh in 1975 .It was stated to be a thrilling and sensational experience for the inspecting officers.  TMR officers generally find it hard to accept the fact of power theft on the HT side of the installation. Power theft in HT? No way. This was the attitude of KSEB till a series of power theft were unearthed from steel rerolling mills at Palakkad. This revelation led to a paradigm shift in the attitude of KSEB towards detection as well as prevention of power theft. Knowingly or unknowingly, KSEB had followed many substandard practices in metering arrangements, particularly in HT services, which had paved the way for unscrupulous elements to take advantage.

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Conclusion
More than 100 years have passed since Edison introduced the rudimentary elements of electrical power utilisation, yet to date practically no one in this industry can estimate the amount of financial loss on account of   theft with any degree of accuracy. Put in another way, no systematic study has been conducted that would reveal the precise percentage of revenue lost to thieves. We can arrive at the figure with maximum accuracy by applying various tools available. . One such powerful tool is the Energy auditing. The SERC have instructed the utilities to undertake 100% metering and energy auditing. There are certain managerial and statistical tools available to find out variation in consumption pattern of consumers. KSEB might have completed 100% metering but have a long way to go in energy auditing. We cannot solely depend on ‘source information’ and limit our enquires to that extend when more powerful tools are available. Maharashtra has undertaken useful studies in energy auditing in dedicated feeders (35 % of their revenue comes from these feeders). AP, a pioneer in implementing various tools for analyzing loss and theft of electricity has done this work in the last decade itself, so goes the saga of Haryana, MP, etc. Further, if a utility is unable to effectively carry out the HT energy audit, even on dedicated feeders, which requires less managerial effort and administrative efforts, the very expectation of reducing theft and losses to a reasonable level will remain a mirage. Let this industry remain without any crisis for long years to come, catering to the needs of our country and to the people from all walks of life. We should see that nobody outsmart our organization or people. Detected thefts are in truth only the tip of the iceberg. As metering go high tech, various system abnormalities resemble power theft. Detection of power theft is not an ordinary job, but very challenging as various qualities like technical know how, leadership, judgment, inquisitiveness etc. are put to test. Let no consumer suffer due to our fault or poor judgment. Let no one cheat the public and get away with riches belonging to the masses. Justice shall prevail.
(The author is Executive Engineer ,KSEB and guest faculty of this subject at ESCI & CIRE ,Hyderabad ,Reliance Energy Management Institute (REMI),Mumbai and many power utilities in India.He can be contacted : This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

 

 

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