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A Measure of Success

Soaring sales of smart metres will herald the age of the smart grid. But when will it happen?

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Smart metre, ANALYSIS

It’s been a long time coming but could the era of smart grid technology finally be upon the Middle East? A recent tie up between global telecommunications giant Ericsson and Landis + Gyr, one of the world’s largest smart metre manufacturers, suggests it might not be too far away.

Last month the two companies announced an alliance to address what they described as the Middle East’s “Smart Metering and Smart Grid transformation projects”.

Under the terms of the partnership, Ericsson and Landis+Gyr will support utilities across the region with solutions that create smart energy networks capable of managing large amounts of data.

“As a result, opportunities for efficient grid and energy consumption management, as well as seamless integration of micro-generated, renewable energy sources will be realised,” the pair announced.

That statement gets to the heart of what smart grids are all about: grid efficiency and renewable energy integration. Early indications in 2015 suggest that the region’s renewable energy evolution is about to take a great leap forward.

Hundreds of megawatts of renewable power generation capacity are under construction in Jordan, while Egypt is in the early stages of developing thousands of megawatts.

Dubai is taking the lead within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), having announced a 200MW utility scale solar project and has laid the groundwork for the introduction of a rooftop solar scheme. These developments will only help to spur the introduction of smart grids and smart metering.

THE FIRST STEPS:
Smart grids help to optimise power supply and demand management by using information technology to provide a two way flow of real time information between power generation, grid operators and consumers. One of the first steps on the way to developing an integrated smart grid is the wide scale deployment of smart metres.

Though a number of smart metering pilot projects are underway across the Middle East, a wider scale roll out has yet to take place.

Landis+Gyr AG has been selling smart meters in the Middle East for close to a decade and strengthened its presence by opening a regional office in Dubai in 2007. The company undertakes sales, technical first level support, IT, communications and project management and logistics locally, addressing the GCC and Iraq regions.

Rajiv Sawhney, managing director of the company’s Middle East office, says smart metering initiatives have not taken off in this region as anticipated for a number of diverse reasons.

These include heavy subsidies on electricity and water, lack of regulation, indecisiveness in the communication technologies to be used, the complexity of preparing for smart metering rollouts, lack of local know how to execute massive rollouts and a company culture which is not as participative as needed for such major undertakings. However he believes it will not be long before it takes off.

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“We are currently managing multi-million dollar end to end solution projects around electricity, district cooling and other multi-utility applications,” Sawhney says.

“We see a growing number of utilities beginning to realise that it is best to adopt the most reliable technologies and get into winning and competent alliances by viewing smart metering as a node to smart grid applications, get the bigger picture all at once and allow for openness in architecture.”

He adds: “A serious attempt to a wider rollout will come with utilities joining hands with reputed manufacturers and system integrators in partnership. I have no doubts or concerns aboutLandis+Gyr’s prospects for the future, which are brilliant, though we may still need some patience before smart metering will take-off.

“Whilst we are being selective on the projects we chose to be in, we are continuously consulting utilities on best practices and with the right business model and project success in sight, will step into customised product and solution development for utilities to address their requirements on the Smart Grid.”

Itron has been present in the Middle East market for over two decades. The US-based company delivered its first generation automated meter reading (AMR) meters in the region in August 2006 and has implemented several smart metering pilot projects in the UAE and Oman. Aqeel Jafar Khan, Itron’sMiddle East sales and marketing director, confirms that smart metering in the Middle East is in the early stages of adoption.

“There are some exceptions in the UAE with the implementation of pilot projects, however they have had limited use cases and older technology,” he says. “A primary reason that smart metering in the Middle East is not prevalent is due to the fact that utilities have not been able to decide on the preferred smart grid communication technology.”

He adds: “We believe that Itron has a key role to play with the introduction of our OpenWay Riva technology and adaptive communications that will enable utilities to invest in smart grid technology with confidence. Once utilities are confident with the choice of communications technology, they will be ready for larger scale smart grid deployments.”

German company Elster deployed one of the first intelligent metering systems delivered in the MENA region, for EEHC in Egypt for MV substation Load Balancing, followed by several industrial solutions in various utilities in Lebanon, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

“In the past years a number of utilities across the region have been actively seeking solutions for intelligent metering,” says Ali Mouslmani, Elster’s regional director MENA. “However it is evident that the UAE is leading the pack. Some of these utilities are still in the pilot phase and others are in the rollout phase. Elster is very much involved both in the pilots and the rollout phases.

“When it comes to smart metering, utilities in the MENA region have concerns about the technology lacking flexibility, interoperability, performance, security and cost of ownership. However the rapid improvement in the technology for smart metering is posing some challenges as well, such as how to test it and adopt it for their rollout.

“The Modular Smart Metering Technology concept offered by Elster addresses these concerns and is being adopted in several projects with utilities in the MENA region. We believe that some utilities are on the verge of completing their pilots within 2015 and expect large scale rollouts for the years to follow.”

In a report released last year, US-based North East Group predicted that the MENA smart grid market will see steady growth in the near-to-medium term, setting the stage for a nearly $10bn market cumulatively by 2024.

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“Smart grid development is accelerating in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region, and shows strong potential in the near to medium-term,” the report says. “In the Gulf states in particular, high incomes, high electricity consumption, and small populations are driving smart meter deployments.

It adds: “Elsewhere, concerns over distribution losses and poor energy efficiency are creating positive smart grid business cases. And throughout the region, extensive solar power development and grid connections are requiring rapid grid modernisation. Overall, MENA is poised to be one of technological leaders in smart grid among emerging market regions.”

It may take sometime yet but there appears little doubt that the smart grid revolution will reach the Middle East sooner rather than later, and soaring sales of smart metres is likely to be one of the early signs.

Smart Metres
The term often refers to electricity metres but the devices can also measure water and gas usage. They provide real time, two way flow of real time information between power generators, grid operators and consumers

Key drivers?
Green energy: Smart metres help manage the grid complexity brought about by renewable energy integration.
Savings: Deploying metres promotes energy effciency and can negate the need to build additional large scale power plants.

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