Smart meters

July 9th, 2016 Sections: News
An example of a 'Smart Meter'

An example of a ‘smart Meter’

Back in September, 2010, Severelektro (Northern Electric – Bishkek’s main electricity supplier … serving about half a million customers across it’s 17 organizational districts), began installing  ‘Smart Meters’ to suscribers in the capital.

A smart meter is an electronic device that records consumption of electric energy and communicates that information back by microwave wireless communication to the utility for monitoring and billing – often several times a day.

Although the term is usually used to refer to electricity supply, in theory it could apply to other utilities, such as Gas and Water supply.

They allow for two-way communication between the meter and the central system. As well as sending consumption data to the supplier, it can receive instructions from the supplier – for example, cutting off supply in the event that the subscriber has not paid their bill in time … or has exceeded a centrally set quota.

For example, here in Bishkek, attempts have been made to impose a limit of useage – 700kWh per month.  At the moment, consumers are charged at a higher tariff for energy consumed above this limit … but the meters give the utility company the potential to cut off an idividual meter if the limit is breached.

In theory, they could also make it easier to implement differential tarrifs or supply poliies for different categories of customers …

They are also able to report if there is any attempt to interfere with their operation … and that’s just a few of the 200 or so functionalities that are claimed for them … hence the nickname; ‘Smart’ meters.

 

Back in March last year, some 68000 smart meters had been installed in the city … in stages through different regions of the city, rising to more than 110000 by the end of the year.

Most of the meters (about 93000) were installed in residential properties, but there were about 15000 that had been installed in industrial premises and another 2000 in large mulitstorey customers.

It was supposed to be a pilot project  – but it seems seems more like the first phase of a larger programme because plans were already in place so that, once the capital was fully equipped, to extend the use of these meters throughout the Northern part of the country – in the Chui and Talas oblasts.

In fact it was all to help improve the efficiency of the distribution system and reduce ‘losses’ from the system … which are so significant that they unlikely to be ‘technical’ byproducts of the system … and are generally referred to as ‘thefts’ of electricity.

Quite early on, before 10,000 meters had been installed … losses were reported to have reduced already by 5.5%

In fact, it was only one element of a larger ‘network rehabilitation initiative’ and ‘power sector efficiency improvement’ project which was supported financially by the Germany KfW Bank. The cost of the meters alone, was reported at 65 million som – about a million dollars at current exchange rates.

As a plannning tool, they should have helped to reduce operating costs and, as a result. it was hoped that domestic consumption might be curtailed and provision to inductrial customers might be increased by as much as 250%.

The meters were purchased from the ADD Group in Moldova, who have installed almost two million similar meters in countries around the globe  such as Brazil, Bulgaria, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and Sweden.

Actually, two million in eight countries implies an average of 250,000 per country … which puts the 110,000 in Kyrgyzstan into some sort of context.

The introduction of these meters, however, has not been without controversy:

Elswhere where they have been introduced, there have been concerns about:

  • the cost;
  • health and safety,
    • the effects of microwave radiation,
    • fire risks – apparently a number of models (not the ones in Kyrgyzstan) have been prone to overheating and started fires;
  • security and privacy –  especially as they will not only be used for billing purposes, but also be able to cut off supply on receipt of a signal from the central system;
  • failure to deliver the economies and other benefits that were promised – to be really effective then the data collected and resulting analysis really needs to be made available to the consumer … who needs to act on the data to change their patterns of consumption;

… but the biggest criticisms here in Kyrgyzstan have revolved around:

  • the fact that electicity bills seem to rise after the meters have been installed … in some cases almost immediately … but in others, inexplicably, after a period of some months – raising questions about.
    • if the customer was earlier syphoning off power (illegaly) which they can no longer do
    • whether the metering functions of the equipment are working properly;
    • if the the tariffs are being manipulated by
      • the electricity supplier, or
      • hackers
    • if the software in the ‘smart’ meter has a ‘bug’ which introduces ‘errors’ …          Maybe it pays to be ‘dumb’ – and not to be smart.
  • the fact that the system is ‘unforgiving’ … and supply is cut off almost instantly the deadline for payment is passed, if the money has not been credited to the customer’s account.That can indeed be a problem here … where the bill can be printed one day … but not delivered for another one or two days … arriving, perhaps, just the day before payment is due … so, it’s no wonder if sometimes people are a little late making payment.Under the old system – penalty charges kick in for late payment, but not automatic cut-off.

 

 

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