During the nineteenth century human inventiveness brought into existence not only wonderful machines but also lucrative businesses. After all, the benefits of the inventions had to be taken to eager consumers. By the end of that century, with the invention of the electric bulb, it was necessary to supply the user with a power source and so came into being the electricity generation and distribution business.
Since then, electricity distribution operators have searched for ways to measure the quality and quantity of energy delivered to their clients, in order to receive due payment for their investments and services. The solution in the beginning was to install a metering instrument at each of the premises and periodically send a person to note what it indicated. More than a hundred years have passed and things are still the same!
Electricity is an invisible product that flows through metallic wires, the demand for which is determined by the user. The energy sold is not witnessed by the seller. There’s only a measuring machine and a very quick monthly visit by an appointed person.
In human society there’s a constant search for welfare. Nature, besides its prodigal benefits, also causes discomfort and aggression for humankind. Wind, rain, storm, snow and intense heat have always demanded human beings’ creativity in order to lessen their suffering.
People’s limitations also led them to think up alternatives that made great efforts for them and even improved on their performance. Activities demanding physical strength became the target of humankind’s creative effort, leading to the conception of machines. Through this process came the knife, the wheel, the lever. Then human beings perceived that the forces of nature that sometimes hurt them could also be used for their benefit, if properly controlled. So people exploited the wind, water, steam and even animal power, especially to perform daily and repetitive tasks.
Much time has passed since the Industrial Revolution, and the new technology domain is automation. Automation is the total or partial replacement of human intervention in the execution of tasks that otherwise would require more physical or intellectual effort from people. Besides human effort reduction, automation frequently conveys more efficiency, shortens execution time, increases accuracy and reliability, diminishes accident risk and increases uniformity of results. Its goal is not job losses, but it often has this consequence. The capitalist enterprise, focused on profits, is generally in search of a means to reduce operational costs, to which automation has much to contribute
METER READING IS FIT FOR AUTOMATION
Meter reading is a centennial practice fit for automation. Around the world, millions of people still walk around every corner to read meters. The moment for the great leap has come. Technologies are available and their costs are coming down. But, as solutions appear, electricity distribution companies are doubtful about the right path to follow. What technology should be chosen? What are the risks involved? What are the impacts on the modus operandi of the company? How much would a full deployment cost? How fast should it be undertaken?
At Celesc, thinking about this, we realised that a reasonable step would be to implement a pilot project. A pilot project is a complete system in miniature, operating in real conditions. With a pilot project we can face, to a much lower degree, technical challenges, human dramas, budget restrictions and proofs of the organisational model.
Celesc’s pilot project aims to achieve several goals: to test the technology; to identify the risks to be faced in a full-scale deployment; to produce unabridged documentation about perceptions, requisites and preferences that will serve as lessons learned; and to test concepts. To that end, the pilot project has the following functionalities:
- Hourly automatic meter reading to obtain individual consumer load profiles.
- Remote connection and disconnection of energy supply in case of non-payment at 50 premises.
- Energy balance at each distribution transformer, allowing evaluation of technical losses, detection of non-technical losses and verification of the transformer loading.
- Monitoring of faults, and
- Integration with the billing system.
We are living in a new order today. Conventional energy sources are not endless: natural resources are limited and global warming threatens the quality of life for future generations. Rational and efficient use of energy is the theme of the day.
Technology is not an end in itself, but neither is work. They both aim to increase human welfare. A sound principle is: Let not people do what machines can do and let not machines do what people should do. Let’s think seriously: is it not time to let machines collect meter data? A train is passing by. Let’s jump onto it!