Life with load shedding

Load shedding has been top of mind for many of us here in South Africa, but many around the world may not realize the impact it can have on daily life. So here is some insight into what life is like with load shedding. First, it’s important to understand what load shedding is. It’s an …

Load shedding has been top of mind for many of us here in South Africa, but many around the world may not realize the impact it can have on daily life. So here is some insight into what life is like with load shedding.

First, it’s important to understand what load shedding is. It’s an action to reduce the load on something, in this case I’m referring specifically to reducing the demand on an electrical supply in order to avoid excessive load on the generating plant. Usually reserved for a last resort solution, the act of load shedding can help prevent a system-wide blackout and allows for users affected in the shed to plan accordingly instead of being surprised by a blackout at an unknown time for an unknown duration. The “action” here is when the electrical utility purposely turns off part of the electrical grid in order to allow the other parts to remain stable.

Here’s how it works in my life:

  • When load shedding is required, I typically receive a schedule about a week in advance. That schedule will provide information similar to the following:
    • Monday: from 08:00 to 10:00 and again from 23:00 to 01:00 (Tues.)
    • Tuesday: from 12:00 to 14:00 and again from 19:00 to 21:00
    • Wednesday: none
    • Thursday: from 02:00 to 06:00
    • Friday: none
    • Saturday: from 09:00 to 11:00 and again from 16:00 to 18:00
    • Sunday: from 19:00 to 23:00
  • This means that I need to plan my days to accommodate the times when I won’t have electricity at home. Some of the tactics I use to achieve this include the following:
    • Ensure that my cell phone and laptop computer are fully charged prior to a scheduled shed
    • Minimizing the number of times I open my refrigerator and freezer to ensure no loss of food supply.
    • Making arrangements to be at a friend or family member’s house outside of the load shedding zone.
    • Scheduling work appointments and phone calls outside of the shedding window
    • Having candles, a flashlight and/or a lantern (and sufficient supply of batteries if necessary) on hand for when load shedding happens at night.

While many see load shedding as an enormous inconvenience, I have to admit I prefer it to the alternative of a country-wide blackout if the national electrical grid goes down. Until such a time that the necessary improvements can be made to the generating capacity, this is the best solution to keep everyone safe and spread the impact over a wide group of users rather than have one area get sent back to the 1700s.

The value of data and information

An investment in advanced data collection technology returns value far beyond meter reading and billing. The traditional view of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is that it provides reductions in meter reading costs and improvements in meter reading operations. While this is true, it is far from the whole story. The greater story is the exploding …

An investment in advanced data collection technology returns value far beyond meter reading and billing.

The traditional view of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is that it provides reductions in meter reading costs and improvements in meter reading operations. While this is true, it is far from the whole story. The greater story is the exploding value of infrastructure-wide usage information. In truth, data that is collected for $1 today will be worth orders of magnitude more in the future. This is possible by transforming data that is currently used for billing purposes into information with strategic applications along the interdependencies of a fully realized smart city infrastructure, one where a full value chain is optimized and performing against this connected and shared data.

Five areas in which AMI data can be used include:

  • Improving revenue cycle services through increasing operating efficiency, increasing the efficiency of field staff, and improving revenue assurance.
  • Managing the local distribution system through the immediate reporting of any outages, planning system improvements, forecasting load and usage, and correlation against other smart infrastructure usage patterns.
  • Managing deregulated/customer choice environments through improved forecasting, reconcilement and settlements, improved outage detection and reliability, meeting new data requirements, integrating renewables, and preparing for retail competitiveness along the entirety of the customer value chain.
  • Delivering new services including updated billing options, monitoring and data delivery services, consulting and other services, submetering, and alternative wireless communications avenues.
  • Delivering value to the end customer by identifying usage patterns, providing monitoring and data delivery services, allowing for submetering, giving customers billing options that best suit their needs, and integrating customer-facing servicing and response systems such as dedicated webpages or smart phone applications.

The new uses and new users of information have forged a new economic reality in today’s smart city infrastructure. Information – the ability to gather it, manage it, distribute it, correlate it, action it and maximize its value will be key arbiters of success in the fully connected marketplace of the 21st century. That’s why we’ve included comprehensive analytics in our DataSCAPE™ product as well as scalability in the system to enable expansion along a connected smart city infrastructure within our Delta Smart Grid Network™.

What shaped the industry in 2018?

In January, I shared Delta’s Industry Outlook for 2018 noting changes and innovations that we expected to see shaping our industry. In that post, I wrote about how: The use of asset performance management will continue to grow. Solutions for grid and utility cybersecurity will be top of mind. Emerging technologies like AR will continue …

In January, I shared Delta’s Industry Outlook for 2018 noting changes and innovations that we expected to see shaping our industry. In that post, I wrote about how:

  • The use of asset performance management will continue to grow.
  • Solutions for grid and utility cybersecurity will be top of mind.
  • Emerging technologies like AR will continue to shape the workforce.
  • There will be an expansion of Wi-Fi and a greater proliferation of cloud-based networks.

Looking back on the year, let’s review how these key outlooks are driving the utility industry.

 

Asset performance management
As identified in T&D World’s recent article, Asset Performance Management Comes of Age, “Utilities that have invested in digitizing their grid have positioned themselves to reap significant rewards as a result.” Asset performance management will enable a utility to rationally prioritize capital planning for aging asset replacement.

Further, collaborations like the recent one between Siemens and Bentley Systems show how those in the utility industry can benefit from asset performance management and how APM may evolve to include predictive analytics, necessary for pre-emptive asset actions, in addition to monitoring current performance.

 

Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity has remained top-of-mind, but as noted in a recent Smart Energy International article, a persistent attacker will eventually breach critical control systems. The article goes on to discuss the rising threats in utility cybersecurity and offers these important notes:

  1. Insist on systems that require more than a promise and a “handshake.”
  2. Be dynamic rather than static or reactive regarding cybersecurity.
  3. Cybersecurity can always be improved.

At Delta, we’re aligned with these viewpoints and that’s why we’ve made sure our Delta Smart Grid Network (DSGN) conforms with the latest security protocols to protect network access and data integrity, from the point of device registration through the catalog and retention of cloud-based storage.

 

Augmented Reality
According to ABI Research, total AR market revenues for the energy and utilities industry are expected to grow to US$18 billion by 2022, with platform and licensing, and smart glasses hardware comprising the majority.

Further, a recent Electric Light & Power article, Today’s Reality, Augmented Reality: Improving Field Worker Efficiency, Security and Quality, notes the following:

The maturing and integration of smart glasses, wireless communication, mobile devices and augmented reality software is opening up new solutions to age-old problems that utility operations managers and their field crews encounter every day, such as:

  • An expansive set of field assets that make it difficult for field technicians to be experts with all equipment, increasing maintenance time and exposing potential safety challenges.
  • Lack of time and qualified inspectors to complete the number of required inspections.
  • Safety risks due to lack of experience with the broad array of tools and assets.
  • Pressure to reduce costs while improving restoration times.
  • Inability to easily record field work for further evaluation, inspection, and training.
  • Loss of institutional knowledge due to retirements or attrition.

We at Delta embraced this technology through the development of our PowerVISR™ hardware.  We strongly believe that customer-centric, future hardware platforms will follow this increasing trend for augmented reality integration.  You may read more about how AR is solving utility issues, here.

 

Wi-Fi and cloud-based networks
According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, “Wi-Fi is the most commonly used wireless communications technology; the primary medium for global internet traffic; a driver of nearly $2 trillion in global economic value; and growing, with 3 billion devices shipping in 2018 and 9 billion devices in use.”

Additionally, through Wi-Fi Offload mobile operators are able to relieve the congested mobile data networks with additional capacity from unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum. This allows them to facilitate combined carrier-class Wi-Fi and mobile services and profit from offering customers a vast service improvement with convenient ‘always-on’ data connectivity.

 

Delta’s technology and business model aggressively supports all three noted principles; Wi-Fi proliferation, Wi-Fi offload and cloud-based networks. Our unique Wi-Fi enabled Delta Smart Grid Network unleashes the power of a truly connected smart city, embracing the most commonly used wireless communications technology, while delivering Internet wherever there is power.

Augmented Reality for Electrical Utilities

A utility field technician’s day is filled with frequent stopping and starting to access and assess the distribution system—and the utility bears the burden of what happens when resources get stretched too thin. How can it make sure that the right data is available to the right person, in the right format and at the …

A utility field technician’s day is filled with frequent stopping and starting to access and assess the distribution system—and the utility bears the burden of what happens when resources get stretched too thin. How can it make sure that the right data is available to the right person, in the right format and at the right time and place in order for the insights from that data to provide practical value? One way is to bring augmented reality (AR) tools to the utility’s field force. By equipping field personnel with AR tools, utilities can streamline things like asset health assessments, service documentation review, repair requirement summaries, repair qualification activities, work order prioritization, location routing and more.

One example of using AR to improve efficiencies is demonstrated in a 2017 proof of concept between the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Duke Energy which tested the use of augmented reality in assessing storm damage. In the project, field workers wore a heads-up display (HUD) units incorporating a monocular screen that provided key information to keep assessments accurate and consistent. This screen overlaid information on the user’s field of view, enhancing their capability to real-time visualize actionable date on that subject matter at hand. The field crews were very positive about their experience and Duke Energy calculated that for a typical, 4-day outage impacting 250,000 customers, using AR would save around 12 hours of restoration time—or $8.25M for customers with an average power consumption of 900kWh per month.

Another way AR could be used is for general servicing and repair. Augmented reality would be able to overlay key performance data into the field of vision for a service technician allowing him or her to immediately assess the health of an asset. For example, being able to see the load, temperature and oil level of a transformer simply by looking up at it with an AR device would expedite identification of any issues. This AR capability would instantly allow a field technician to prioritize service actions against multiple assets within their field of view, all without opening, powering and inquiring using traditional keyboard centric field devices.

It’s important to note, according to EPRI’s 2018 literature review of human factors issues in the Electric Power Industry, there is still a shortage of human factors and occupational safety research for AR devices. Therefore, guidelines for the appropriate amount of time for safe and effective AR usage are lacking. This being true, as the technology progresses and electric utilities continue to experiment with using it more information will become available and, similar to other adjacent markets, we anticipate pick-up in adoption of this exciting user interface methodology.

Boosting Resiliency for Smart Grids

In this rapidly changing, modern day digital landscape, ensuring the full reliability and resiliency of the smart grid is a growing challenge. How do we ensure the system will be able to “bounce back” and recover effectively from an outage? The explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT) introduced a wide variety of smart devices …

In this rapidly changing, modern day digital landscape, ensuring the full reliability and resiliency of the smart grid is a growing challenge. How do we ensure the system will be able to “bounce back” and recover effectively from an outage? The explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT) introduced a wide variety of smart devices and products to bring increased connectivity. Couple this with outdated infrastructure, and the vulnerability of the grid to potential outages and malicious attacks has increased.

We saw that resiliency challenge manifest in the recent wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and even after Superstorm Sandy back in 2012, where millions of people were without power for days. In the case of Puerto Rico, more than 450,000 still remain without power, now four months after the storm hit. These types of outages are coming at a steep price – a 2013 U.S. Department of Energy study found that power outages caused by extreme weather had an average economy-wide cost of $18-$33 billion from 2003-2012. Consider this along with the growing concern for grid cybersecurity—with the U.S. Energy Department indicating that the electricity system “faces imminent danger” from cyber-attacks—and it’s no surprise that resilience of the grid should be a top priority for utilities.

To maximize the full capability of the smart grid, investments need to be made in more resilient infrastructure and technology solutions to strengthen the grid’s resiliency against unplanned events, from weather to security. A critical piece of this is in considering innovative technology solutions that can evaluate real-time performance and provide the information needed to act proactively, efficiently and effectively in the event of a problem.

For example, our Delta Smart Grid Network (DSGN™), brings real-time data capability and active IoT device integration wherever there is electricity. The network can provide utilities with actionable data and visibility into their systems and how those systems are operating through the use of our cloud-based analytics platform.

This infrastructure will enable utilities to more easily identify issues for immediate action, whether those stem from natural disasters, cyberattacks or other issues. For example, if there is a reported outage, a utility can quickly identify the location of the problem, which is typically a time-intensive, manual effort. In providing this increased visibility, utilities are empowered and the resiliency of the grid, in turn, is improved.

Another solution to boosting grid resiliency could be found in considering distributed energy, energy storage and microgrids. In one example from Hurricane Harvey, more than a dozen Houston H-E-B stores were able to keep their lights and resources on for their respective communities due to having natural-gas powered microgrids in place.

Readers, what are some other ways to build the resiliency of the grid? Share your thoughts and/or questions with us here.

Charting a Course for the Next Generation Smart Grid

More than a century of development has established the foundation for a safe and reliable electric grid. But, our increasingly digital landscape and world of connected devices has demanded even further innovation to reach that next generation of the grid: the smart grid. So, while we are empowered more than ever before with the data …

More than a century of development has established the foundation for a safe and reliable electric grid. But, our increasingly digital landscape and world of connected devices has demanded even further innovation to reach that next generation of the grid: the smart grid. So, while we are empowered more than ever before with the data and knowledge to improve the world around us, outdated energy infrastructure and old technologies are essentially holding the world back.

Advancement to the next generation smart grid is a critical next step for our current systems to better communicate and work together efficiently. That means establishing a reliable and stable communications network that leverages analytics while also providing a wireless, secure and mesh-enabled environment.

That’s where Delta comes in, and we’re already proving to be a disruptor in the industry. I founded this company fully aware of some of the current challenges facing the energy sector, but confident that great strides could be made to channel some of these exciting innovations happening all around us in this digital age – and we’ve done just that.

With our Delta Smart Grid Network (DSGN™), we are making those great strides and charting a new course for the next generation smart grid. Not only are we providing utilities with the tools needed to keep pace, but our technology can bring connectivity to millions around the world—especially those in developing countries who need it most.

That’s a significant motivator for us here at Delta and one of several reasons why we are passionate about what we do. The implementation of ground-breaking technologies like ours can empower underserved populations to better their future, and allow those emerging markets to grow and prosper.

Together with our customers, we are realizing the potential of a smarter grid and empowering them to tap into the innovation opportunities that surround us. In doing so, we see a bright future for utility operations and each of the communities that they serve.

Solving business and social issues in tandem: how our technology helps developing communities grow

Food, water, energy – these are the three most fundamental social needs facing the world’s population. And at the point where these three basic needs intersect there are even more difficult challenges to address – it takes water to create food and energy; it takes energy to move, heat and treat water, and to produce …

Food, water, energy – these are the three most fundamental social needs facing the world’s population. And at the point where these three basic needs intersect there are even more difficult challenges to address – it takes water to create food and energy; it takes energy to move, heat and treat water, and to produce food; and sometimes food crops become the source of energy. Because they are interconnected and interdependent, actions or change with respect to one will certainly impact another or both.

Today we also see emerging markets expanding exponentially; all while critical infrastructure and necessary resources are lagging. Without Internet access, these underserved populations in the developing world aren’t able to utilize web-based healthcare or education resources to improve their earning ability or advance their well-being. Not to mention the challenges brought about by the digital divide between urban centers and rural districts, and poorly developed and/or managed infrastructure that make it even more difficult. Despite these challenges, and rather than relying on the legacy infrastructure available in the developing world, there are opportunities to adopt and implement technologies specifically suited for local market conditions. By focusing on new technologies to address these needs and pursuing public-private partnerships, it’s possible for emerging markets to move forward toward development, prosperity and growth.

At Delta, we understand the association between these needs, and how energy and Wi-Fi can provide the foundation for people in developing communities to grow and thrive. We recognize how our unique solution can be brought to bear in taking on and solving these kinds of local social and economic issues, in order to provide opportunities for those in underserved populations to become empowered to better their future.

For example, when a local utility builds out and optimizes its system using our Delta Smart Grid Network (DSGN™) – a singular, standardized, and scalable network that enables underserved communities – it’s not only optimizing its power delivery, it’s also building out our Wi-Fi network, essentially creating a large hot-spot. And with Internet access now available, the opportunity to expand education, support micro-enterprise and empower the local economy will surely follow.

Our philosophy at Delta is that business and social issues are not mutually exclusive; each needs to be addressed in ways that empower the other. Through efficient access to energy and then access to the Internet, underserved populations will be able to tap into the many Internet-based resources currently unavailable to them. They’re then empowered to pursue microenterprise and contribute to the local economy.

Ultimately, our vision is to engage with global non-profits and development funds to realize and expand this capability in these underserved markets.

Addressing Poverty in South Africa

South Africa weaves a rich tapestry of cultural and ethnic diversity. From the streets of its metropolitan cities to the rural villages of its hinterlands, South Africa’s predominantly young population is characterised by a wide range of languages, religious beliefs and customs. According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), in 2011, the population of South …

South Africa weaves a rich tapestry of cultural and ethnic diversity. From the streets of its metropolitan cities to the rural villages of its hinterlands, South Africa’s predominantly young population is characterised by a wide range of languages, religious beliefs and customs. According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), in 2011, the population of South Africa was 51. 8 million.

Last year, Statistics South Africa published a report that updates the national and provincial poverty lines, setting the minimum socially acceptable standard to separate the poor from the non-poor. Stats SA’s new poverty lines come from a cost-of-basic-needs approach, including both food and non-food. It calculates the minimum amount of money you need to survive. Those who fall below that line live in poverty.

It uses three lines of poverty – the food poverty line (FPL), the lower bound poverty line (LBPL) and the upper bound poverty line (UBPL). The FPL sets the rand value below which you can’t purchase enough food to meet a minimum energy intake, about 2,100 kilo-calories a day. The next two categories take into account other needs. Those below the LBPL line do not have enough money to purchase both adequate food items and non-food items, thus, have to sacrifice food to pay for essential and non-essential items such as transport and airtime. The UBPL group are still considered in poverty, but can generally purchase both food and non-food items.

The latest statistics say that 21.7% of South Africans live in extreme poverty, not being able to pay for basic nutritional requirements; 37% of people don’t have enough money to purchase both adequate food items and non-food items so they have to sacrifice food to pay for things like transport and airtime; 53.8% of people can afford enough food and non-food items but fall under the widest definition of poverty in SA, surviving on under R779 per month.

The Stats SA food poverty line is equivalent to a person living on $2.34 a day, “which is almost double the international poverty line for extreme poverty ($1.25).” The report continues, “The LBPL is [purchasing power parity] $3.50 day and the UBPL is [purchasing power parity] $5.43, slightly above the highest international poverty line of purchasing power parity $5 referenced by the World Bank and other international agencies. When converted to purchasing power parity, the poverty lines for South Africa are above the most extreme international lines, but within the maximum used for international comparisons for developing countries.”

As South Africans, we need to look to the future and see what we can individually and collectively do to change the state of poverty in South Africa. One compelling proposition involves the faciltitation of Public Private Partnerships, recognizing the efficiencies gained through the pairing of for-profit business organizations with both local government instituations and non-governmental humanitarian organizations (NGO’s). What if an international business operation, collaborating locally, could field a technology-centric methodology for empowering local educational NGO’s with rural access to the global Internet? Open and available information is a primary component of individual engagement, education, empowerment, and ultimately, autonomy.
This vision and the underlying philosphy are core to Delta Energy & Communications. At Delta, we believe in Profits with a Purpose to empower both local communities and local enterprise through our Delta Squared strategy, which emPOWERs businesses and their communities by working to solve both business and social issues in tandem.