Central and Eastern European (CEE) utilities cannot miss the chance! The chance, that is, to implement mature and sophisticated smart metering systems. They can learn from Western European and American ‘pioneers’. And they can do all this at much lower cost.
The Smart Metering CEE Conference in Budapest in March was the first international event of its type organised in the region, attended by over 130 utility/smart metering experts. Most presentations referred to well-known cases from Western Europe, Scandinavia and North America; very few covered projects or initiatives in CEE countries.
This was not a surprise, as the event’s purpose was to initiate discussion and share experiences as well as to engender confidence and pride in the decisions of those who have already started projects in CEE utilities (in Serbia, Poland and Russia). But there are still no big roll-outs in the region. Why? Is it too early for this solution, or is there a lack of business justification? No, none of these: There is no reason why CEE utilities should be behind the West, and there are many reasons they could be ahead.
However, utilities face many challenges: How to meet the increasing demand (1.5 to 3% annually) with ageing infrastructure, how to finance investments in new power plants and grids, how to protect revenue for services delivered, and how to meet EU requirements regarding market opening.
But what is needed to achieve these challenges, and can technology help? Yes, it can help a lot, especially in the CEE countries, where utility companies are investing in new billing, CRM and SCADA systems. They have a unique opportunity to incorporate smart metering solutions into newly designed business processes and applications that are being implemented. They can learn from the pioneers, and apply more mature and less expensive technology. Even the business drivers are easy to define: Non-technical energy losses are among those giving the biggest savings when at least partially eliminated.
Of course there is something that keeps CEE utilities busy and maybe this is the reason that smart metering is not top-listed on executives’ agendas. CEE utilities in many countries in the region are still state-owned companies awaiting privatisation or acquisition, a competitive market does not exist, and huge budgets are spent on infrastructure projects required to avoid blackouts and to meet growing demand.