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Decision makers need to answer a number of questions before stepping into the world of smart grids and its associated metering requirements, says Sariel Etwire, Metering Manager at the Electricity Company of Ghana.

The choice of metering for a smart distribution grid lies in the commitment of a utility operator caught in the difficult situation of deciding who, how and what intelligence controls today’s smart grid and what should be relegated to the background.

This article originally appeared in Issue 2 2018 of our print magazine. The digital version of the full magazine can be read online or downloaded free of charge.

Through the development of a requirement mapping plan against a customised assumption matrix of the risk postures of the decision makers, the selected choice will bring intelligence and control that is convenient for your utility.

During the initial stage of a metering plan for a smart grid, it is imperative to decide the ‘must do` that will address enhancing the controls in reducing commercial and technical losses, controlling system reliability and the impacts of fluctuating renewable energy sources,and addressing the increasing desires of customers for transparency and convenience.

Considering that the business needs for metering have changed rapidly over the last seven years – in areas of specification and application, life span, cost factors, and its inter-dependencies – the meter for a smart grid must definitely have two key features:

1. Communication to remotely communicate and exchange data with a Meter Data Collection System (Head End) over a Data Communication Network; and
2. Control to execute programmable complex algorithms thatcontrol the functioning of the meter, which should alsoprovide some form of intelligence.

The smart path

Metering for a smart grid should be a configurable electronic tool whose strength lies in software applications and riding on ICT infrastructure to measure and record electrical energy parameters at selected intervals for purposes of monitoring and control. Such a device is definitely essential in any smart grid system. The limitations of the hardware meters should be complemented with analytical meter data management software, which is a must-have tool to keep ‘alive’ a smart grid, and needs to be housed on a dependable and resilient ICT infrastructure.

What about the required changes in business operations? Recently, I completed a second review in two years of a previous meter specification that worked well for a decade. It was to address the changing phase of metering in the era of smart grids.

If you have not reviewed yours yet, it is a must and should have more than 60% focus on the portability,changeability, supportability, interoperability of its ICT architecture, applications and reporting systems and to what extent the product can be developed in future.

This is to avoid the need to replace installed smart meters as regularly as we change our mobile phones but rather depend on the evolution of its software and firmware.
Can electricity metering continue to be the purview of utility companies only? I am sorry to say that it cannot,because of the drivers. Utilities may have to relinquish some revenues, controls and roles to get the convenience and controls needed to stay in business.

The metering requirements should no longer sit on shelves at isolated specification units but rather with the utility business unit that is in constant touch with the needs of all key stakeholders. In any event, a Board should be instituted to crop-off high expectations that drain revenue with little impact on business viability since the quest for more smartness will not stop now.

Smart grid master plan

As in all projects there is a need to carefully identify the key stakeholders to aid in the development of our smart grid master plan and the phasing of business cases. Your key stakeholder list must include your local ICT service providers, consumers, other non-commercial operators in the company and meter manufacturers.

Can metering on smart grids be used to address the revenue leakage canker undermining the viability of utility companies in the sub-Saharan Africa?

Yes, we can reduce revenue leakages through the advancement of smart metering in smart grid. The much awaited intelligence required to undertake nation wide energy audits and accounting is now, but will need investments and commitment to realise its objective. We have embarked upon boundary metering for effective segregation of network to identify and prudently work on reducing losses.

If you were only concerned with consumer meters in the past, then you may have to include in your portfolio an intelligent network metering at strategic nodes to enable the heartbeat monitoring of your distribution grid for its reliability and sustainability. Some old utility grid codes need to make way for some power sharing, competition and cost effective pricing of electricity; and grid automation is the way to go with the support of measurements and ICT.

The penetrating impacts and numbers of renewables is a must watch for all utilities and as such the meters should be able to capture their behaviours for forecasting and revenue related activities.

Do we deploy smart meters before deployment of smart grids? The answer is yes for consumer meters but you will need a common metering and analytics platform to handshake with the requirement of a smart grid. Additional network automation and metering systems can await the development of the smart grid.

Paradigm shift

Cost factors to be watched and controlled are escalating meter prices, sophisticated meter data management software, data movement across telecommunication networks, infrastructure to support chunks of data and middlemen championing our dreams to own a smart grid.

The manpower skills required for blue collar jobs need to be reviewed to support the installation and maintenance of the metering systems especially the ICT related peripherals,which serve as the strength as well as weakness in the types of metering required for a smart grid.

At the end of the plan, a utility company whose quest for effective control with smart systems is faced with the technology gap may have to relinquish controls once again to new entrants – these being IT vendors and associated infrastructure and cyber security that do not lie in the purview of an orthodox utility company.

The question again is what is your reason for seeking a smart grid and how far will you adopt a paradigm shift in your mandate to achieve that.

In conclusion, vote in favour of a smart grid, develop your mapping plan with your assumption matrix and lobby for changes in grid codes, service level agreements and legislation on cyber security.

Choose meters with intelligence and control and expand the metering applications across the network to deliver the convenience and controls needed to keep your business alive. ESI

This article originally appeared in Issue 2 2018 of our print magazine. The digital version of the full magazine can be read online or downloaded free of charge.

About the author
Sariel Etwire has over two decades of working experience at the Electricity Company of Ghana, where she is the General Manager for Metering and Technical Services, with the main responsibility for the policy direction,management and supervision of metering and asset mapping activities to ensure quality, reliable and user-friendly solutions to support the company’s strategic objectives.