By Eduardo Maggi
In many countries in Latin America in general, and in Argentina in particular, there has been a change in the concept of the model of the electricity market, which, added to a process of the privatisation of generation, transmission and distribution companies, has brought about structural changes in the vision of the business and the functioning of these companies.
The distribution companies started to operate with a vision that was focussed on improving customer service and the quality of the technical and commercial services within a framework of efficiency in the management of resources that also assures profitability. Thus, the major companies were able to develop efficient commercial processes, especially in the areas of meter reading, billing, bill delivery and payment collection.
They realised also the need for effectiveness in controlling non-technical losses, with the greatest challenge not in locating the most sophisticated fraud but rather in avoiding the large-scale theft in certain customer segments.
SITUATION OF THE DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES
Different factors affect the development that is required to meet the constant growth in consumption. In many cases investments are lagging with respect to the evolution of the demand, producing gaps that can even lead to insufficiencies in the capacity of their network structures. Thus, in situations of maximum demand, there may non-compliance to the “N-1” design criteria on the availability of reserves.
Within this reality, the management of the distribution companies must focus on improving the efficiency of the network, in order to reduce damage or failures, while at the same time minimising the response time when these do occur. In the light of this it is fundamental to be able to have the information of what is happening in the network “on-line” to enable more immediate and precise decisions to be made.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR SMART METERING
From what has been stated, it would be a mistake to look for viability in the incorporation of AMI only for the reduction of operating costs and the detection of fraud. These aspects should be considered more as additional benefits, within an implementation that should be strategic.
In the short term, these meters offer a solution for customers whose meter reading might be difficult to achieve, for example in gated communities, dangerous neighbourhoods, and exclusive buildings or those without a caretaker. In addition they are very useful at strategic points of the network, where one would like to have information concerning the continuity of the service.
But with an integrated vision of the future, the large-scale implementation of smart meters would allow optimization of the use of the technology already installed in the generation, transmission and distribution companies.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE SMART GRID
In Argentina, the widespread development of data networks and cable television on the same infrastructure as the electricity networks can be taken advantage of in the progressive implementation of mechanisms towards the development of a smart grid on the electricity network.
This would allow better and more intelligent management of electricity to be achieved so that in the future, all the implementations associated with the concept of “smart grid” can be obtained.
From the regulatory point of view, it is necessary to implement policies of stimulus, both at the national and international levels, on the basis of the global benefits that the application of these technologies will produce, while also taking into account the investment and maintenance requirements and the possibility of short-term depreciation, given the speed of evolution of technology and its cost reduction.
Another issue that should be considered is the impact of the design of the distribution network from a topological point of view and in the utilisation of equipment that may be operated in an automatic way. Others are the changes in the designs of substation, protection and remote control.
Another benefit – just as important as the others – is to facilitate the rational use of energy, with favourable consequences for society and the environment. Another issue that is fundamental is the determination of a new global regulation tariff that would make differentiated operations possible according to schedule and time of the year, while considering the availability of generation and dynamic application.
A central aspect is standardisation, which is necessary to align the evolution of the different technologies.
In summary, the ordered implementation of the smart grid in general, and of AMI in particular, represents a challenge for our generation, with beneficial consequences for future generations.