The Middle East is facing its own energy challenges, and utilities across the region are rapidly turning to smart energy technologies, including smart meters, advanced metering infrastructure and energy management systems – to both realise the benefits of smart metering and to enhance energy efficiency. This feature will explore some of these projects, and give an overall perspective on energy management, customer care and billing technologies, and smart metering in the region.

MAN WITH METER READER

Made to measure – Automatic
meter reading will help GCC
utility providers keep track
of consumption.

The rate of real estate development in the Middle East today is placing utilities under increasing pressure to monitor energy consumption in a cost-efficient way. “Nowadays they are building cities upwards,” says Ali Mouslmani, regional director of metering systems manufacturer Elster Electricity. “A building has an average of at least 30 floors and maybe five meter units on each floor. That is 150 units to measure in one building. Multiply this by the number of buildings being built in the whole region and you can imagine the number of meters required.” This will make it very challenging for meter readers.

On top of this, as DMC International general manager Mamoun Shahin points out, mechanical meters are subject to tampering, lose 5-8% of their accuracy after ten years, and do not allow for effective load management, whereby utility companies can encourage or discourage usage at peak and off-peak times. “Government utilities are looking to track consumption and customer profiles closely in an effective, easily manageable process,” says Shahin.

REMOTE READINGS

Automatic meter reading (AMR) systems allow all a utility’s meters to be read remotely, through a number of different methods, and the data to be transferred to a central database for billing. This greatly improves accuracy, and means a customer can be billed based on actual consumption rather than mere estimates.

Electronic meters are used instead of mechanical ones, and are fitted with a communication module. Readings may be taken of each meter using a hand-held terminal with an antenna. An operator can walk or drive around the area while the device collects the information on radio frequency, with each meter having its own ID. Once all the readings are in, the operator can dock the terminal at a central computer and load the information onto it.

Alternatively, the meters might be linked to each other in a network, with or without wires. This mesh network sees the meters linked internally and acting as repeaters that keep passing the data on until it reaches the central computer. The central computer can be linked to the meters as long as it is located in the same building.

If not, a concentrator is used to collect the data, which is then transmitted to the central computer via a fibre-optic network, or via GSM or GPRS. In this case, distance is of no consequence. The utility can be in full control of its meters via GSM and not a single person is required to be in the field to collect the information – something Shahin describes as a significant cost saving.

In the case of electric meters, data can be transmitted over power lines back to a computer. This is known as a power line carrier (PLC) system. Meters are connected to the power distribution lines within a building and can be read by a remote meter unit (RMU), which sends the information over low-voltage power lines to a gateway, an industrial PC, in a medium to low-voltage substation.

“Essentially this means that regular electricity cables are used to transfer the data, and as such no additional infrastructure or costs are required,” says Shahin.

“The meters transfer data to a concentrator located at the transformer substation. Then telephone lines, public switched telephone network (PSTN), GSM or wireless media can be used to send the data from the concentrator to the control station."

CASH REGISTER

But being able to read meters remotely is far from a mere convenience. “At the end of the day, the meter is the cash register of the utility,” says Mouslmani. Certainly, the quicker process is good news for utilities. The sooner they can make the readings and get the information, the sooner they can start invoicing and collecting payment.

Hans Peter Kyk, general manager of Kamstrup Middle East, also believes utilities need to act now. “If you go years back, even electricity was part of your rent so the tenant did not even think about his energy consumption,” says Kyk.

“Today it is completely different. Energy prices are going up, even in the Middle East, so the utilities have to be a lot more focused on getting the revenue back. With automatic meter reading the utility can make sure it is paid for the energy consumption.”

DISTRICT COOLING

Kamstrup, which established itself in Dubai recently, is primarily active in the region’s district cooling market, having experience with the similar concept of district heating in Scandinavia. “We measure the amount of water going into the building, and in addition we measure the temperature of the water going in and the temperature of the water coming out of the building,” Kyk explains. “The amount of water going in and the temperature difference gives us the amount of energy consumed in the building.”

Kyk also believes it will only take one or two years for the technology to be adopted and has already installed automatic meter reading systems for district cooling in Dubai Investment Park and the Falcon Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road. Many new real estate projects are going with automatic district cooling meters from the outset. “To retrofit a building with meters is more costly, but I am sure it will come,” he says.

“There are projects coming up now to replace mechanical meters with electronic meters. The mechanical meter has the same interface. It is just a matter of putting a new device into the pipe but because of the money required it will take some time.”

NON-TECHNICAL LOSSES

Utilities can also cut down on non-technical losses due to nonpaying customers by using two-way AMR and by monitoring and controlling every distribution device out in the field.

“Many of the Middle Eastern countries are facing problems with regard to bad debt and payment collection issues,” says Shahin. “AMR systems address these issues by providing automatic and remote shut-off facilities to customers that have large outstanding dues. AMR also allows utility providers to track any leakages or thefts and minimise the loss of potential revenue.” Mouslmani estimates that non-technical losses due to non-paying customers have dropped 30-40% with the implementation of such two-way systems. Losses due to tampering will also become a thing of the past. Electronic meters cannot be slowed down and cutting the wires will only trigger an alarm in the system. In addition, the possibility of human error during meter reading is eliminated. Taking all the benefits into account, the minimum saving and additional income expected from implementing an AMR system is 17.6% of gross sales

METER DATA MANAGEMENT

Going beyond taking a reading and the remote connectdisconnect facility, historical data for a particular customer can be accessed and analysed using advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), essentially combining the technology with data management software to help a utility plan for the future implementation of tariffs.

“The data is stored for up to 15 years,” Kyk explains, “so we can go back in case there is a dispute with a customer about his energy consumption.” There are benefits for customers too. Commercial and industrial users may need to do their own energy consumption forecasting or implement energy management systems. Customers can purchase the historical data from the utility on a monthly or annual basis – another way for a utility to recover its investment.

THE BUSINESS CASE

For Mouslmani, such value-added services, which maximise the system’s potential, are essential to persuade utility providers to adopt the new technologies. “The stronger we make the financial business case to the utility, the better it is,” he says. “If we look into the meter reading functionality alone, today it becomes quite difficult to justify a system with such a complex infrastructure. It does require a high investment.” Utilities are trying pilot systems to see how feasible the new technology is.

“In the UAE it is already taking off,” says Mouslmani. “They just want to feel comfortable with it and make sure it is going to give them what they need.”

NEW AMI ROLLOUT IN DUBAI

In a new project for Dubai, Emaar Properties recently selected an Elster advanced AMI solution for its Burj Dubai high-rise project, based on its accuracy, functionality and flexibility and its competitive advantage. Upon completion, the Burj Dubai (Dubai Tower) will be the tallest free-standing building in the world and will utilise Elster’s Meridian System for tenant consumption metering and the collection of metering data.

Installation began in October 2007, with implementation throughout 2008. Emaar Properties plans to commission the system by the fourth quarter of 2008.

Mr. Rashid Ghamraoui, MEP Project senior manager for BESIX Engineering, stated: “The Burj Dubai will be one of the highest tech buildings in the world; similarly it deserves a high tech and robust metering system.” Ronald B Via, Vice President of Elster Electricity, commented: “ Emaar Properties selected the system because of its ability to deliver a complete AMI system that meets the customer’s business case. It will utilise the Ethernet network within Burj Dubai to communicate with 1,287 meters used for tenant metering. The system should be user friendly and allow for easy meter reading, data storage and data analysis. It will enable the monitoring of energy use and the analysis tools needed to better manage business and power costs. The meter is an electronic polyphase meter for residential and light commercial customers with load profile storage.”

DUBIA PARK

Dubai Investment park.

EMS TO BRING DOWN CAPITAL COSTS OF DUBAI’S AL BATEEN TOWER BY AED 8 MILLION

Energy Management Services (EMS) has signed an agreement with Al Bateen Investment Corporation to incorporate energy-saving and environment-friendly engineering solutions at the design phase of the Al Bateen Tower in Dubai, which will not only lead to major savings in the project’s capital and operational costs, but will also make the tower a green building.

EMS will provide the value engineering analysis, monitor implementation and designing services of recommended state-of-the-art energy efficient equipment, insulation and heat recovery systems in the Al Bateen Tower. These systems will bring a competitive edge to the project, reducing the building’s capital costs by AED8 million (US$2,178,056.09) and cutting down its annual operational costs by AED700,000 (US$190,579.91).

Khaled Bushnaq, Managing Director, EMS said: “The implementation of energy value engineering solutions in the prestigious Al Bateen Tower demonstrates the confidence high-profile builders have in EMS’ energy-efficient systems and in our expertise to design and install these state-of-the-art technologies. We hope the Al Bateen Tower project will compel other developers to adopt similar solutions, helping them to enjoy the benefits of reduced building and operational costs.”

“We look forward to extending our partnership with Al Bateen Investment Corporation by working on similar implementations for future projects of the company. There has been a growing awareness of the use of energy-saving products in the region, which has seen an increased adoption of EMS’ solutions that offer real savings to business organisations and allow residents to lead healthy, sustainable and environmentfriendly lifestyles. With the savings achieved, developers can utilise these amounts in making investments in parks and gardens,” Bushnaq added.

CUSTOMER CARE AND BILLING IN ABU DHABI

Recently, in Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) migrated to an enterprise management system, heralding the world’s first bilingual Arabic Customer Management System, with the aim of improving services, streamlining business practices and accelerating revenue collection. ADWEA completed the migration to the new applications in two days across all operations – without impacting service levels.

As the national utility company of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, ADWEA provides services to 450,000 subscribers. With this new system it is able to provide its customers with accurate utility bills, based on systematic meter-reads that include supplementary consumer information concerning rates and other services. ADWEA has also improved its business processes to accelerate bill printing and distribution and shorten its payment collection cycles. The system also provides ADWEA customer service agents with a 360º view of customers, which enables them to respond to customer queries quickly and resolve issues effectively. The migration to the system was completed in one weekend – thereby enabling all branch sites to access the new applications simultaneously. Importantly, the transition did not impact customers or operations.

REGULATORY DRIVERS

Mr Nasr Girgis, Manager of Engineering Planning and Development at ADWEA, notes that the utility is striving to become an icon in the area. “Abu Dhabi is showing progress in all fields; the AMR was a strategic decision by management to be the first in the region, particularly in its decision to replace all meters with digital meters capable of handling multiple data, rather than adding communication devices to existing meters. Currently we are 95% digital; the goal is to reach 100% by 2010.”

A key regulation in this process has been the Customer Metering Regulation. The regulation requires recertification of all meters. The meters fall under schedule four, which states the meters can remain in service for ten years without losing accuracy. Recertification means that you take meters out of service and ensure that they comply with IEC 17205 standards (similar to ISO 9000). Suppliers provide meters with guarantees of a certain number of years of service without loss of accuracy. To avoid penalties from the regulator, ADWEA was compelled to recertify all of its existing analogue meters. It proved to be cheaper to install new digital meters. In this way, the regulation was a key driver. This in turn led to the decision to deploy AMR and more accurate billing systems.

“We had standard specifications within ADWEA for this project which were made publicly available,” Girgis continues. “These covered time of use reading, remote disconnection and reconnection. The currents and voltage were specified (four wire circuit – 3 phase.)”

The communication system for the AMR project was awarded to Amplex. “As such there is no open protocol, says Girgis. “The AMR provider needs to communicate with different types of meters. The three meter suppliers – Elster, Sergei and Eskra – came to an agreement to come up with the same data structures. Currently communication exists with 80,000 meters, which will ultimately reach 400,000 meters.”

The system comprises a mix of solutions, including power line communication (PLC) for electricity meters and MBUS for water meters. The water meter data is then communicated to the PLC system and from there to a central point. From this central point GPRS is then used but, going forward, WiFi will be used as a wireless solution to get data to computers. “GPRS is too expensive in the long term whereas WiFi is a fixed cost and the running cost almost zero,” notes Girgis.

Because the project is not yet complete, advanced functionalities like time of use billing and remote disconnect have not been deployed. Customer display units will eventually be introduced to enable this. “The specifications are flexible enough to accommodate any political decisions going forward,” says Girgis. “At the moment, we still don’t have sufficient information about customer consumption patterns from wellsized samples to make decisions about AMR.”

Regarding the meter readers themselves, all have acquired new jobs within the utility and there were no terminations.

“This project is not just a meter reading project but is a full management system and is very large in its scope. The potential is huge – we have a full control system for street lighting and a distribution management system for MV and LV. This has been a rapid modernisation process and has occurred in just two years,” Girgis concludes.

ENHANCING APPLICATION CAPABILITIES AND SCALABILITY

There is a new data and billing system already installed. This was supplied by SPL – now owned by Oracle – and is called the CCMB customer care and billing system. The data migration and cleansing process was smooth and has resulted in accurate and rapid billing as well as updated customer information.

The streamlined user interface enables ADWEA call centre representatives to process customer requests quickly and accurately. The bilingual Arabic-English capabilities inherent in the application provide ADWEA with additional flexibility that simplifies hiring and training new staff.

The utility has also improved its ability to dispatch technicians to resolve service issues on site, using detailed information available via the system’s 360º view of the customer. The renewed focus on customer service also includes systematic meter-reading management, rapid bill creation and distribution, and shortened payment collection cycles. Further, the utility is now working on fully automating the meter reading and billing processes.

OMAN: THE ROLE OF METERING IN HALVING POWER SYSTEM LOSSES BY 2012

The Authority for Electricity Regulation, Oman (AER), the regulatory body set up by Royal Decree to administer the power and related water sector, aims to cut ‘system losses’ in its northern electricity grid to around half their present level by 2012. The Authority is working with the transmission and distribution companies in bringing about a significant reduction in technical and non-technical losses of electrical power, while also improving efficiency.

METERING DEFICIENCIES IDENTIFIED

With a view to minimising system loses, the Authority invited Oman Electricity Transmission Company (OETC), as well as the Muscat, Majan and Mazoon distribution and supply companies, to report on losses on their networks. All four companies, according to the Authority, identified problems measuring losses due to metering deficiencies. Muscat, Majan and Mazoon highlighted the poor performance of meter reading, billing and collection contractors as a significant contributing factor to non-technical losses: including failure to read meters regularly, and meter reading errors. “The Authority hopes these problems will be addressed when the existing contracts are replaced with new and more appropriate contracts,” it added.

ACTION PLANS

Problems of inaccurate MIS system metering have been largely overcome by installing digital metering on the OETC transmission system. Metering has also been improved at licensed production facilities. The accuracy of meters at customer premises is also expected to improve, following the Authority’s decision to allow digital metering at customer premises and by ensuring the meter testing stations of licensed suppliers are properly calibrated and subject to annual checks. At the direction of the Authority, each of the four companies presented an action plan setting out how it proposed to reduce technical and non-technical losses. They suggested, among other things, the imposition of fines and penalties to discourage meter tampering, as well as the adoption of improved tamper-proof seals.

CONSTRUCTION SITE

The construction of the Al
Bateen Tower in Dubai
.

In other measures identified in the action plans, the companies pledged to systematically replace old and malfunctioning meters, and ensure meters are located in places easily accessible to meter readers. Promising to recruit qualified meter reading technicians, they stressed the importance of a more rigorous and systematic scrutiny of the performance of meter-reading, billing and collection contractors (including greater scrutiny of meter-reading routes and the application of penalties for failing to meet meterreading targets). Other measures listed by the companies include updating customer registers to ensure identification of all premises to which electricity is supplied; and reviewing the basis of consumption estimates used when actual meter readings are not possible. For its part, the Authority has proposed to incorporate losses reduction targets in the new distribution and supply price controls that took effect from 1 January, 2008. “The objective will be to reduce total MIS losses to around half their present level. It will be important to provide companies with incentives to implement the measures identified in their action plans, and to allow companies a share of the benefits of lower losses,” the Authority added.

KUWAITI FIRM INVESTS IN SMART GRIDS

In market news predictive of the region’s growth in smart grid technologies, Al-Deera Holdings, leading a consortium of Kuwaiti-based companies, invested US$20 million in BPL Global Ltd., an international leader in smart grid technologies and broadband services over power lines (BPL).

Jassim Mohammad Al-Bahar, Chairman and Managing Director of International Financial Advisors (IFA), said that the IFA consortium through Al-Deera has reached an agreement with BPL Global that would lead to the implementation of this technology in Kuwait. He added that this service would improve the efficiency of the electricity grid by monitoring the load conditions that the grid may be exposed to at any given point in time.

Khaled Magdy El-Marsafy, Al- Deera’s General Manager, said that smart grids improve the performance of electricity networks by smoothing out peak power demands; thus allowing utility companies to save billions of dollars that would otherwise have been needed to prevail against recurrent interruptions in transmission.

“We’re pleased to begin our partnership with BPL Global,” said Al-Nakib . “We have seen a great deal of momentum with this company, as it has formed an increasing number of promising joint ventures, built a solid management team, and adopted pioneering steps in the development of smart grid technologies and broadband services.”

Al-Nakib indicated that the tremendous growth potential associated with the project has also been an important factor underlying the investment decision. “While the telecommunications industry, for instance, is expected to grow by a compounded annual rate of 5.90% till 2010, the BPL communication sector is likely to expand at a faster pace, given the considerable reduction in associated capital cost and the subsequent impact of the latter on demand levels. The Middle East region is likely to keep pace with the global trends when it comes to telecommunications; but, given the fact that BPL technology allows for reducing the end-users’ costs drastically, it might prove to be a much more attractive option in the long run.”

“Our investors have recognised the significant efficiency and reliability benefits, as well as consumer benefits, of the work being done by BPL Global and its partners. Smart grid applications will save a utility tens of millions of dollars in operating and maintenance costs and generate a new revenue stream from broadband services,” said Keith Schaefer, Chief Executive Officer, BPL Global. “We’re looking forward to taking these exciting applications to the next level and realising the market potential of these integrated systems.”

AN ADVANCING REGION

With such a rapid deployment of intelligent devices and infrastructure – and all of it happening at a highly competitive speed – it is clear that the region is fast becoming a world leader in this field. With regulatory demands, supply-side drivers and demand-side challenges, the Middle East is clearly poised for a Smart Future.