[South Africa] Eskom testing new technologies for deployment in the fight against electricity theft
Eskom is investigating an arsenal of new technologies to deploy in its ongoing fight against electricity theft.
Says Dileep John, Eskom’s Energy and Revenue Losses Manager in charge of the power company’s anti-electricity theft campaign: “For many years now, Eskom has been testing and implementing new technologies to improve service delivery and to stay a step ahead of criminals who are involved in the theft of electricity.”
At the core of Eskom’s technology-based interventions is the rollout of smart meters. “Smart meters,” John explains, “are able to record consumption of electric energy in intervals of an hour or less and communicate that information at least daily back to the utility for monitoring and billing. Smart meters, therefore, enable two-way communication between the meter and a central system.
“Like all our meters, the new smart meters undergo rigorous testing at our Research, Testing and Innovation Centre in Johannesburg to ensure that they perform adequately under all conditions and remain durable and accurate in their measurement for their entire life span,” he adds.
In future, as the smart meter technologies continue to evolve, the infrastructure which allows two-way communications between the central system and the meter may be linked to other in-house devices.
Eskom is also piloting the use of Remote Access Terminals (RATs) and Data Concentrators in a number of locations across the country. These units allow Eskom technicians to remotely disconnect or reconnect power supply to any specific customer without physically going to the point of supply.
“They play an important role in ensuring the safety of our staff when they have to do disconnections in dangerous areas because such operations can now be conducted from the safety of their office. The technology also enables us to quickly reconnect customers who have paid a fine because the technician does not have to physically drive to the point of supply to effect the reconnection,” says John.
The visualisation laboratory at the Eskom Research, Testing and Innovation Centre is utilized for developing and testing a new computer programme that will allow technicians to remotely monitor power usage at individual household level to detect irregular usage patterns, which, according to John, can be an indication of inefficient usage by the customer or even a sign of electricity theft.
“Once completed, the new programme, which uses visualisation technology, will enable technicians to compare electricity usage among customers in any suburb or even in a townhouse complex to identify those whose usage is unusually high.
“A comparatively high consumption rate is a common tell-tale sign of electricity theft because people who do not pay for the electricity use tend to be wasteful in their usage,” John says.
All these interventions will give Eskom a much needed edge in its continued fight against electricity theft.
“As electricity thieves are relentless in the pursuit of their illegal activity, our research and development team continues to develop, test and implement new technologies to ensure we stay ahead of the criminals and are able to deliver a world-class service to our customers.
“Despite these advances, we still implore the public to play their role to help Eskom keep the lights on by reporting suspected electricity theft via an anonymous SMS tip-off to 32211 (R1/ SMS),” he concludes.