By Martin Vergunst, Business Solutions Executive at T-Systems South Africa
One of the most obvious advantages to smart metering platforms is the ability for household and business consumers to opt into load-limiting programmes with their electricity suppliers. By agreeing to participate in load-limiting programmes, users have their power supply throttled back to a pre-determined level during times of peak demand. This allows for important appliances to continue running, without the household suffering a total blackout (as is the case with load-shedding).
In theory, as more and more people see the collective benefits of load limiting programmes, our power utility is able to better control electricity demand, and maintain the often-fragile ‘reserve margin’: the differential between total generation and total usage at a given point in time. Load-limiting allows people to maintain the uptime of the basic appliances that keep the household running, as well as things like critical medical equipment and other important appliances. With a smart metering control console, households can specify their high-priority appliances, so that only those of lesser importance – like swimming pool pumps – are out-of-action during times of load-limiting.
In fact, in the country’s largest urban area of Johannesburg, where millions of households place immense pressure on the national grid, load-limiting pilots have already kicked-off. Johannesburg’s City Power has stated that load-limiting initiatives are a crucial arm in its strategy to alleviate load shedding. T-Systems shares this sentiment, and has been advocating the use of smart household metering, creating a platform for meter point operators to use, which will give consumers far better visibility over their usage, as well as allowing them to benefit from load-limiting programmes. Perhaps most importantly, the promise of load-limiting is easily within reach for most consumers.
Any meter that is Secure Token Specification (STS) compliant includes basic load-limiting capabilities in its design. With the addition of simple hardware and configuration requirements, these meters can be made ready for load limiting. With estimates that there are up to 10 million STS-compliant prepaid meters in South Africa, it is easy to see how load-limiting programmes could achieve widespread adoption. Load-limiting may not be a silver-bullet that eradicates the threat of load-shedding once and for all, but it is a useful tactic when augmented with other measures – such as increased consumer education, variable tariff structures at different times of the day, and full-feature smart metering solutions that schedule appliances to kick-in at certain times.
At T-Systems we believe that solving the national energy crisis will only be possible if everyone is involved and playing their part. By considering load-limiting strategies, the utility, our municipalities and other distributors are giving individual consumers the opportunity to play an active role in managing energy demand. This is in stark contrast to the other alternative, where consumers remain passive victims of rolling blackouts, and where our economy continues to suffer the consequences.