x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Capital to mark gains in meters

Push for smart grid includes modern measuring methods

Electricity meters could start running backwards as soon as next year in Abu Dhabi as the Government lays the groundwork for a more advanced power grid and weighs incentives for rooftop solar panels. The new infrastructure, disclosed yesterday by the emirate's main electricity supplier, will allow owners of buildings and homes to sell power back to the grid at a guaranteed price and paves the way for Abu Dhabi to host one of the most advanced, or "smart", electricity grids in the world, experts said.

Since the deployment of the first electricity grid in New York by the celebrated inventor Thomas Edison in the late 19th century, the model has changed little: power stations supply enough electricity to meet the maximum demand each day, and mechanical meters in every home record every kilowatt-hour used. Utilities across the world, however, are investing billions of dollars in advanced technology that allows them to credit customers who produce their own electricity and gives grid operators sufficient data to determine with great precision when consumption is highest and when to charge the most for electricity.

Grids under development in the US and in Italy, Germany and other European states create financial incentives for customers to use electricity when demand is lower, at night, for example, and smoothly incorporate minute-by-minute changes in supply from wind and solar farms affected by sudden gusts or passing clouds. The Abu Dhabi Distribution Company (ADDC), which serves customers in the capital, surrounding towns and the Western Region, will have installed digital electricity meters by the end of the year in all the homes it serves, said Abdulrahman al Dhaheri, the company's deputy managing director. Al Ain Distribution Company, which serves customers in the emirate's Eastern Region, has undertaken a similar effort.

Its installation campaign will give ADDC a better understanding of consumption patterns across the emirate and will help it react more quickly to sudden changes in the supply-and-demand balance, Mr al Dhaheri said. The new meters are part of a larger three to four-year effort to automate Abu Dhabi's electricity grid. "This is part of the smart grid," he said. "When we have a failure in one part of the grid, you can transfer the load to the other side."

The digital meters are also an important precursor to putting solar panels on customers' roofs, said Christian von Tschirschky, an expert on GCC electricity at AT Kearney, the management consultancy. "Households become consumers and distributors of electricity," he said. "You need to have these kinds of smart meters that tell [the utility] every second what is the current supply and what is the demand from each household."

If it installs digital meters in all commercial and residential buildings, Abu Dhabi would be well ahead of other GCC states and on par with European countries in advancing the development of smart grids, Mr von Tschirschky said. "Abu Dhabi will clearly lead the GCC states. There is no other country that has comparable market penetration [with meters] in such a short time," he said. "This is the breakthrough for many applications, for many new developments, for many commercial services." A truly smart grid prompts changes to consumption patterns, either by charging more or even remotely disconnecting electrical appliances when demand spikes. Such changes have not yet been proposed for Abu Dhabi, but the technology is already in use at Masdar City, the carbon-neutral development at the edge of the capital.

The next step for the Abu Dhabi Government would be to develop variable prices for electricity, Mr von Tschirschky said, so customers would pay more when demand for electricity was at its maximum. A change in tariffs would require the approval of the Executive Council. "They could adjust by the second the prices according to the load in the grid," he said. "This would be a huge innovation and has been tested in many locations in the world."

In the short term, the new meters would immediately reduce ADDC's costs, Mr al Dhaheri said, as they would eliminate the need for ADDC workers to go to homes to read meters or shut off electricity. ADDC is in the middle of a larger efficiency drive that includes pushing consumers to pay their bills online and at ATMs, and not at service centres. The company yesterday signed a deal with Emirates Post to allow customers to pay their bills in cash at post offices across the country.

cstanton@thenational.ae