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Analysis | August 2012

Powering energy conservation

Enabled smart metering concepts can play a critical role in reducing the carbon footprint due to inefficient usage of power and also assist the world in its energy conservation effort, says Emmanuel Maçon-Dauxerre.

Even with alternative energy coming into play, the key to energy security and a cleaner environment is conservation of energy. The most efficient usage of energy surpasses every other concern. For instance in India, the government has launched an ambitious programme under the National Solar Mission wherein it intends to establish India as a global leader in solar energy by creating policy conditions for its diffusion across the country as quickly as possible. The first phase (up to 2013) will focus on capturing low-hanging options in solar thermal and on promoting off-grid systems to serve populations without access to commercial energy and modest capacity addition in grid-based systems. In the second phase, after taking into account the experience of the initial years, capacity will be aggressively ramped up to create conditions for scaled-up and competitive solar energy penetration in the country. The government has also decided to dole out tariff subsidies for those consumers who reduce the burden on utilities and make alternative power affordable for consumption. However, in spite of these efforts a key concern for the government is optimal energy usage without wastage or unaudited usage of energy. Among the primary reasons are pilferage and wastage of energy due to theft and technical power losses. Proper accounting or auditing of power that is being consumed is a key aspect in the government’s plan to provide power to grid-based and off-grid areas with non-conventional sources of energy. Even if the government provides power to off-grid areas with non-conventional sources of energy, its key concern would be to ensure that power usage is fairly balanced between power generation costs and revenues. If it is unable to check this aspect, most projects envisaged by it may start to seem untenable. The main reason behind it is that alternative energy today, although it offers significant long-term economic and environmental benefits, is considered to be a more expensive alternative to conventional energy sources. And if power generated by alternative sources is not consumed in an accounted manner, the cost of funding such projects will grow manifold, making alternative sources of power a distant reality.

The same holds true for conventional sources of energy. Today, only about 60 per cent of the power generated by the country reaches the consumer and nearly 40 per cent is lost due to inefficient transmission technologies and theft. If the scenario remains unchanged with alternative sources of energy kicking in, the scenario will not be any different. Apart from these aspects, there is also a lack of awareness among consumers in terms of efficient usage of the power that reaches their homes, further adding to the woes of energy conservation.

Transmission and distribution (T&D) losses are not unique to India and it has global precedence as well. Apart from creating public awareness regarding the efficient usage of power, technological interventions need to be put in place to alleviate these issues to a great extent.

One of the key technologies that is helping drive conservation initiatives across the globe is adoption of smart metering concepts that are being powered by Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technologies. These technologies, which combine sensors and applications, leverage the power of the available wireless (GSM/ CDMA/ Zigbee) networks to help machines communicate with each other and drive the evolution of smart metering concepts across the world. They help utilities become more economically viable and also make consumers aware of conservation techniques to bring down their energy costs.
While consumers benefit from the adoption of such technologies, utilities benefit the most by getting access to data and information that was otherwise not possible. Adoption of smart metering technologies powered by our technology not only provides them with almost real-time data and information, but also provides significant visibility into their energy-auditing process, helping them account for almost every ounce of energy consumed. This not only helps them monitor usage patterns, but also provides them with insights into terms of power usage and helps them narrow down to problem areas (irrespective of whether they are technical or pilferage issues).

Normally standalone metering (which is largely the standard right now) is highly person dependant and can result in a great deal of human errors making accurate measurement of power consumption almost impossible. Besides, there are many related issues that come into play when we have archaic metering systems. Energy audits which are performed based on bill collection are highly inaccurate as billing is done on an estimated monthly average consumption basis. Due to this, utilities are unable to monitor and control discrete loads leading to a lack of consistent supply, thereby resulting in frequent outages. Manual reading of meters increases billing cycles apart from introducing inaccuracies in the data that do not help in making critical analysis such as demand analysis, energy audit and pinpointing losses.

But introduction of innovative concepts like smart metering or wireless automated meter reading (AMR) technologies will help alleviate such issues because wireless AMR and smart metering concepts will help utilities move towards a more centralised operation control model wherein data communication starts to play a more pivotal role in the overall operation of utilities’ electric distribution systems. Everyday more and more utilities across the world are turning to wireless technologies to improve operations and decision-making in the delivery of various customer services including electricity, gas, water, etc. As this reliance on wireless connectivity grows and technology improves, wireless networks start taking an increasingly significant role as the backbone over which utilities are connected to their assets, employees and customers.

These technologies benefit utilities and also have the potential to impact the behaviour of consumers towards energy conservation. Today, consumers are not very aware about their energy consumption patterns and the associated costs. With the help of these technologies they can get an accurate view of how each energy-consuming device in their household contributes to their energy bills. If consumers get visibility into which device consumes the maximum amount of energy and under what conditions, they would be more careful in operating that particular device, resulting in reduced energy bills in the long run. This is possible if different kinds of sensors are connected to our devices or applications that provide them with wireless updates about their energy consumption patterns, helping them make more informed decisions regarding their usage patterns. Besides, it will also provide them with visibility into how and when they are consuming more power than the sanctioned loads thereby helping them optimise their energy usage. This will lead to lower energy bills for consumers and also help them conserve energy.

Thus enabled smart metering concepts can play a critical role in reducing the carbon footprint due to inefficient power usage and also assist the world in its energy conservation effort.

The author is Energy Segment, Sales Director, Telit Wireless Solutions. Views are personal.
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