Maximizing grid efficiency with today’s software


Conference: Metering, Billing/CRM Latin America
Location: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Presenter: Jo-Anne Ruhl
Abstract: Presented by Jo-Anne Ruhl at Metering, Billing/CRM Latin America

Electricity demand is rising in most countries. But it is not always easy to find the capital needed for significant grid expansion. We need to find ways to make better use of the existing grid until expansions are possible.

Demand-response programs for all customers are one route to more effective grid use. But they, too, carry significant costs in the form of interval meters and elaborate two-way communications networks between meter and utility.

This presentation will discuss alternatives to demand response that use existing utility software to achieve the same goal—enabling the grid to serve more customers.

  • Shave peak use with rate adjustments
  • Some studies suggested that varying flat rates monthly rather than annually  may produce 30 percent of the peak-shaving gains anticipated through real-time pricing. That is because much of the activity that gets reduced at times of high peak prices is activity that cannot be time-shifted (use of air conditioning, for example). It makes sense to try this alternative before implementing the more elaborate and expensive real-time pricing involved in universal demand-response programs.

    Bill analysis and personalized targeting of high-consumption customers

  • Achieving a 1 percent peak reduction from a high-consumption customer may result in considerably less grid congestion than a 10 percent reduction from a low-consumption customer. And the higher the consumption—for business and residential customers alike—the more significant the savings available from such “low-hanging fruit” remedies as “half-lighting” or heating/cooling optimization.


  • Both studies and common sense show consumers use less when they must personally pay for electricity. The practice of sending a single bill to a building with multiple tenants encourages wasteful use of all utilities and penalizes those trying to reduce their “carbon footprints” by forcing them to pay for the profligacy of others.


  • Long considered a last-ditch remedy for consumers with chronically overdue bills, today’s prepayment programs are proving a surprisingly effective tool in reducing both total and peak consumption. Chartwell cites reports that prepaid customers tend to use 10-20 percent less electricity than their non-prepay counterparts.  The reason appears to stem from the feedback prepayment provides. Consumers monitoring a smart card’s declining balance must confront and think about their consumption on a regular basis.
  • That 10-20 percent figure compares very favorably with estimates of what might be saved through universal access to interval-meter-based demand-response programs. And some believe those savings could be available without the cost of pre-pay meters. Anecdotes indicate that, like the fuel-optimization displays in hybrid cars, prominent in-house displays of real-time consumption can spark consumers to play “beat the meter” and produce significant reductions in overall consumption.

    Time-of-use rates

  • The move from flat to interval rates almost always requires a complete meter change-out. And the massive amounts of new data to be stored and analyzed frequently mandate expensive new software and hardware.
  • Moving from flat rates to three or four time-of-use rates presents far fewer issues. Utilities may be able to convert rather than replace existing meters. Existing software may be able to handle the data increase as is or with the addition of a module. That’s a far less costly solution than introduction of a new meter data application.

    Network Management

  • Outage management systems. Utilities in regions not prone to storms have tended to shy away from outage management software. But outages can result from grid congestion and lack of maintenance, too. Techniques to correct such problems quickly can be just as important in maximizing grid efficiency as is fast recovery from storms.
  • Distribution management systems. These can help identify equipment prone to failure before it actually fails. And vendors have made preliminary strides toward the “smart” or “self-healing” grids through major advances in fault location isolation and service restoration.

While such measures are not a long-term alternative to massive grid improvements, they can help ease the pain while utilities expand the grid in ways that are orderly and affordable.