Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo
The federal government has been advised deal with electricity theft in the country in order to save the power sector from total collapse.
Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Computer Warehouse Group (CWG), Mr. James Agada, who gave the advice in Lagos recently, said although government has taken steps to resuscitate the electricity sector, through privatisation, intervention funds, meter procurement and investment in new power plants, among others, he however insisted that these fundamental changes will not ensure constant power supply, except the issue of theft is addressed.
Quoting the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, who recently pointed out that the technical and commercial losses in the power sector is running at 75 per cent in some areas, Agada said the entire system must struggle to address the issue of theft and also make the necessary investment to ensure sustainable and reliable power system for the country.
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According to Agada, "A large percentage, perhaps, 50-60 per cent of these losses can be attributed to energy theft, through the consumption of electricity without paying for it. This can happen either inadvertently or deliberately.
Inadvertently because the power companies are not metering and collecting the payment. This is usually a smaller percentage because the power companies simply use estimated billing to cover for the unmetered consumers."
The deliberate stealing of electricity is widespread and happens through various schemes including direct connection to the overhead low tension distribution cables, bypassing the meter so that only a small load is connected to it while the rest are connected directly to the supply behind the metre or tampering with the metre to make its reading inaccurate, Agada said.
He explained that the deliberate stealing of electricity is more often than not, aided and abetted by experienced technicians who understand how the systems work. In these instances, the use of smart metres which are able to send their status readings to a central server are easily outfoxed. The smart metre will only have records of the electricity passing through the network it is connected to. If it is bypassed, or the connection is directly to the distribution line, the smart meter is unable to detect and report the anomaly. When the metre is itself tampered with by experienced technicians, they may also be able to fool the metre into not reporting the breach. Smart meters depend on being able to communicate their status to a central server which can then analyse the information and hopefully be able to infer thefts using different algorithms, he said.
Considering the amount of data each meter produces, few organisations can afford the computing power needed to execute these algorithms in near real time, he said.
To address the problem, the CWG has developed a solution that makes it possible to detect theft and alert the power companies with the precise location where the theft is happening in near real time, not more than three minutes after it occurs without requiring large computers and complex expensive algorithms.
The solution, according to Agada, uses distributed microcomputers mounted on pole top units, while continuously applying Kirchokoff’s laws of electricity flow to determine when the energy flow do not balance and using that to detect energy losses most likely due to theft. Once a theft is detected, the central server is alerted and the alert is passed on to line men or other dedicated technicians who can be mobilised to investigate. The unit can also cut off power if needed.
This system is far cheaper and more robust than the ‘smart meter and super computer combo’ being promoted by most other vendors.
"We can very quickly reduce the losses due to theft by more than 80per cent within a few months. In addition, our system is able to carry out metering or integrate with the metres now being deployed by the electricity distribution companies (DISCOS). If those meters are deployed by themselves without a system such as ours, the impact on reducing theft will be minimal," Agada said.