A Smart Plan for Electric Utilities facing new challenges


Conference: Smart Grids Africa
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Presenter: David Healey
Abstract: Presented by David Healey at Smart Grids Africa

Utilities in Africa are facing an unprecedented demand for change. In order to meet growing demand economically and environmental imperatives efficiently, the design and operation of the power delivery value chain will need to become capable of real time interaction with the marketplace. Of course these dramatic changes must be absorbed whilst always ensuring that electricity is affordable and continually improving in terms of reliability. Utilities today have very little visibility as to what is happening on the electrical distribution network and are therefore frequently in reactive mode. In most cases, there is little if any visibility into the real-time picture of system conditions.

The challenge is how to overcome this reality?

The electricity sector in Africa faces the same challenges in this regard as those of every other continent.  The relative scale of the available socio economic benefits that can be realised from addressing these challenges however, is unique to Africa.  Today’s technological advances in the field of power delivery operation provide unique opportunities in Africa, to deliver maximisation of present asset utilisation, reductions in asset operation and improvements in the quality of power service delivery.

In order to realise these mission critical benefits, utilities in Africa must be able to monitor their energy delivery infrastructure and manage the resulting information effectively in order to have meaningful control of the power delivery process. This smart monitoring is the difference between a century-old way of delivering power and tomorrow’s efficient and reliable Smart Grids.

Improving energy efficiency requires the grid to minimize energy delivery losses and perform in a proactive manner in order to optimally balance supply with demand. Accomplishing this task requires a form of intelligence on the distribution grid that to date has not been available. Smart Grids will change that.

Smart Grids will use revolutionary new technologies, products and services to create a strongly user-centric approach for all customers and to respond to environmental, social and regulatory demands placed on energy supply. Networks are evolving: Smart Grids incorporate the latest technologies to ensure that they will be flexible, accessible, reliable and economical.

The Smart Plan solution to improve energy and operational efficiency depends upon building new types and levels of functionality into the power system, with Smart Grid innovations such as:

  • Digital real-time monitoring and control of the power delivery network
  • Integrating communications
  • Transforming the meter into a smart meter
  • Integrating distributed energy resources

Key opportunities for utilities that are provided by Smart Grid innovations include:

  • improved system reliability
  • improved operations
  • implementing load control to reduce peak and overall energy requirements
  • reducing energy delivery loss
  • implementing theft detection
  • integrating distributed generation and energy storage devices

With its improved efficiencies in energy delivery and operations, Smart Grids will be as profound and widespread as the telecommunications and Internet revolutions, but the implementation and results will not happen overnight. 

It takes a Smart Plan of innovation, development and utility action for electric utilities to overcome distribution system constraints and transform their electric power infrastructure into a future Smart Grid.