Embracing renewable energy, adapting business models, reducing operational expenditure and using Internet of Things (IoT) technologies can lead to effective power generation and transmission, says University of Pretoria (UP) associate professor Raj Naidoo.
While the energy model for electricity generation is evolving at a rapid rate globally, South Africa’s initiatives to integrate renewables sourced power into the coal-dominated generation programme have been slow.
Renewable-energy sources can help in reducing carbon emissions and can create longer-term sustainable revenue streams, says Naidoo.
He adds that modern technologies, such as IoT, offer “huge benefits”, such as effective asset management, to the electricity sector. This, in turn, can assist in managing challenges regarding ageing infrastructure, and effective revenue collection that is crucial for municipality sustainability.
“One of the most common IoT use cases for electricity utilities is smart meters. Smart meters provide utilities with a direct channel to offer consumers value-added services, such as immediate-use feedback, flexible tariffs and the use of smart home applications.
“IoT can be exploited to ensure that communication between devices employing dissimilar data types is successful. Smart metering can be used to enhance revenue collection,” explains Naidoo.
Currently, at national and municipal level, there is difficulty in gaining the necessary income to meet the costs incurred when providing electricity. The profitability, business model and tariff design of municipalities are historically based on energy volumes and are, therefore, not a reflection of cost structure.
“The advance in metering infrastructure can assist in creating new business models and sustainability. From a technical perspective, it can boost the management of power flow on the electrical system and provide real-time monitoring of several variables in the power system,” says Naidoo.
The advance metering infrastructure uses two-way communication for intelligent energy coordination, which assists customers and power utilities in monitoring or controlling the electricity system in real time. This allows the demand response system to introduce a solution for controlling demand for a given electrical system.
“From traditional electrical metering to the advance metering infrastructure, the demand-response system scheme implementation can be designed in central and decentralised decision-making, thereby reducing demand and energy costs from State-owned power utility Eskom,” notes Naidoo.
Meanwhile, he notes that all municipalities, regardless of size or location, can benefit from using IoT, but that this will depend on the revenue available to municipalities for such investment.
Moreover, Naidoo explains that municipalities need to reconsider the outsourcing of information technology, data hosting and cloud computing to reduce costs.
The South African National Energy Development Institute has proposed the “utilities in a box” approach for smaller municipalities, which will create a centralised structure with benefits for such municipalities, Naidoo points out.
Municipalities can also generate new revenue streams through the integration of renewable energy, which require four-quadrant metering. The four-quadrant meter measures power flow in both directions. It’s important because when households are generating too much of power, they can export this into the municipal networks and be compensated for this.
“The technology would allow for flexible tariffs and demand management,” Naidoo notes.
Additionally, IoT can reduce the workforce size and operational expenditure. Remote condition-monitoring of assets with smart sensors can also reduce downtime and excessive maintenance.
Potential challenges municipalities face in this regard are data security and the reskilling of the workforce to operate the smart grids.
However, “the Smart Grid Lab at UP offers a fresh approach to smart grid research that empowers the end-users, delivers savings, and benefits utilities and municipalities,” says Naidoo.
Industrial, commercial, and residential sectors can also benefit from the Smart Grid. The Smart Grid Lab focuses on integrating renewable-energy generation sources, such as wind or solar photovoltaic energy, into traditional grids, as well as reducing inefficiency and emissions at all levels.
The lab also researches traditional grids and develops technology for more effective protection and condition monitoring.
“Our research aims to make the national grid safer, more stable and more efficient, guiding the integration of sustainable energy sources and improving the data available to engineers working on the grid,” concludes Naidoo.