With three years to go until Estonian electricity distribution network operator Elektrilevi completes its smart meter rollout, Mait Rahi, project manager and head of the Smart Metering Programme, talks about Europe’s energy transition, outsourcing and European Utility Week.
Following a pilot project involving 5,700 smart meters in 2012, the rollout of the rest of the 630,000 smart meters is taking place between 2013 to 2017, supported by Ericsson Eesti for the implementation of the smart metering project and Landis+Gyr providing the smart metering infrastructure for the project, including the smart meters, data concentrators and the head-end system.
Q: What are Estonia’s metering plans?
A: Estonia is on the path to meeting its 2020 electricity metering goal. The goal is in accordance with Estonia’s legislation which states that all electricity meters must be replaced with smart meters by January 2017. The Elektrilevi Smart Metering program is following this timeline. Mass installation took place in March 2013 and by the middle of 2014, over 263 000 meters were installed. Approximately 357 000 meters are yet to be installed.
According to Rahi, Elektrilevi’s main project is meter installation and operation for the efficient and accurate delivery of consumption data. In addition to this, the company is focusing its attention on the analysis phase of meter usage in wide grid monitoring. Says Rahi, “As everyone in the industry knows, meters ‘talk’ a lot. Therefore, the challenge is to convert this huge data flow into useful and trustworthy information which can be put to proper operational use.”
Q: What is Elektrilevi’s approach to outsourcing and working with partners?
A: “Before one can distinguish between the different levels of responsibility shared by partners, you have to know what is happening on the ground and understand the potential issues that may arise during the project. Normally, this may only become clear during the period of implementation and operation,” explains Rahi. He goes on to explain that Elektrilevi’s approach is to define these “connection points” only where they are able to define them clearly, as well as measure them accurately.
Elektrilevi also believes in outsourcing services across all boards where possible. Rahi explains that outsourcing is essential if the company wants to maintain a competitive edge in the market. He adds, It also gives us the confidence that our customers’ fees are spent in the best possible way.
Q: How open is the Estonian energy market?
A: Today all Estonian customers operate in an open energy market, which opened fully in January 2013. For high consumption clients (above 2GWh/Y), the market has been open since April 2010.
Estonian domestic customers can choose among 12 sellers which makes the price of electricity more favorable than in most European countries, explains Rahi. Around 93 per cent of electricity is consumed in contracts, and only 7 per cent of the electricity is consumed under general service.
Customers can choose their electricity at a fixed price-based on the stock exchange dependent price and as a combined package.
Rahi expects that the newly developed connections (NordBalt connection between Lithuania and Sweden, and the connection between Lithuania and Poland) will lead to more stable prices throughout the Baltic and Nordic region, and that the added new production capacities will help to stabilise prices.
Q: Smart meters and energy management – are they the best solution?
A: While smart meters offer numerous benefits to both the utility and its customers, Rahi is of the opinion that customers’ energy management solutions will eventually shift from the meter. He says, “There are a number of solutions on the market already. These solutions will provide different levels for energy management for end-users and they are also able to operate independently from the meter.” He adds that at the end of the day, it is the customers’ choice as to what technology is used-whether it is a Smartphone, tablet or desktop computer. “They all will be used if there are customers using them.”
In conclusion, we asked Rahi for this opinion on Europe’s energy transition: “Each European country and its electricity infrastructure is different. Therefore, the urgency on this topic is different for each utility. However, I strongly agree that there must be a decision-making point for every utility where they must make a decision as to whether they will participate in and provide off-grid services or not. By agreeing to participate, they will be taking on a new business opportunity.”
Mait Rahi will be speaking at the new sessions on Local and Small to Medium Sized Utilities within the free-to-attend Case Study Programme, taking place on the exhibition floor. Join his presentation on Tuesday 4 November 2014, 14.20-14.40, ‘Estonia: The Challenges and Advantages of Relying on Partners’.