Making your grid smarter

IMG_0789-2By Dr Raj Naidoo, director at Enermatics Energy

Discontinuous innovation surrounds us. Think about banking. When last did you have to stand in a queue to make a transfer? If you’re like me, it’s probably been a while. Banking is only one of many industries that have transformed through the internet.


UBER has transformed the taxi industry, AirBnB the hospitality industry. The list goes on. When mobile phones were first introduced, many people assumed they were only for the rich.


Within a decade, Africa went from not having landline phones to having advanced cellular infrastructures. If there’s value for customers, sooner or later technology becomes mainstream.


For any industry change, there will always be clients ranging from the early innovators and visionaries, to the laggards. The laggards resist change and usually the last to adopt new technology.


Our utility grid has remained pretty much the same since Nicola Tesla introduced us to AC power. We have big power generating stations, big transformers, transporting power over long distances and all of this small on data.


In recent years, there’s a new buzzword, “the smart grid“.


So what exactly is a smart grid? Before we elaborate more on this, let’s consider a few things shaping our landscape:

  • smart phones are becoming the norm
  • there’s more people connected to the internet than ever before
  • technology is becoming more powerful and cheaper
  • municipalities are under increasing pressure for better service delivery


For something to be smart, there is an element of intelligence. In the smart grid, the fuel for this intelligence is data. Through technology and data, we now have access to unprecedented visibility into their customers usage patterns, condition of the grid etc.


Data can remain data or be transformed into products and services that transform the way we manage the grid. The smart grid has many benefits for the customers and suppliers of power.


Customers are going to get harder to deal with, not easier—less loyal, more picky,” says Oracle President Mark Hurd.


Many customers in South Africa feel ripped off by municipalities. The main reason for this is a lack of information of their usage. A smarter grid empowers Individuals to understand their energy usage.


Once they understand how and why they use energy, they can make intelligent decisions about it. Presently, most customers receive a bill at the end of the month i.e. after they’ve used the electricity. The only information that arrives with their bill is a cumulative one.


By providing individuals with the timely, accurate, and detailed information they require to take control of their energy use is only one of the benefits associated with the smart grid.


Other benefits include:

  • Estimated bills will become a thing of the past. Customers will know what they owe and will be able to budget better.
  • New, innovative tariffs will appear, tailored to meet the needs of specific customers’ lifestyles
  • Customers will get better service such as on-demand readings (for example, on changing supplier or moving home).
  • Smart meters will measure electricity generated from domestic micro-generation, enabling so called “prosumers” to be financially rewarded for their contribution.


What’s in it for utilities?

  • Fewer estimates and queries
  • Better planning of their networks
  • More effective revenue collection
  • Accuracy and transparency


While we cannot say for certain how long it will take for the grid to smarten up, we do know that we will definitely get there.