“With power theft you have a loss of revenue”
South America’s largest electric power utility Eletrobas launched the Energia+ program in an effort to reverse the growing problem of electricity theft in Brazil. Distribution director Luiz Henrique Hamann talked at the company’s new Metering Intelligence Center in Brasilia about what triggered this US$700 million investment.
The Magazine: Eletrobras provides service to a dynamic area of Brazil: six regions in the country’s north and northeast. What is the company’s rate of growth?
Luiz Henrique Hamann: Eletrobras’ market keeps growing because Brazil is a developing country. Overall, energy demand grows during normal years an average 5 percent per annum. Some regions like Amazonas, of which Manaus is the capital, are developing faster than the rest, despite the economic recession that the country as a whole is experiencing.
Amid the growth, Eletrobras is wrestling with a difficult problem: the theft of 22 percent of all the electricity it distributes.
Electricity here tends to be regarded as a common good but it is an asset of utmost importance for production and for people’s lives. It’s important that it be really valued by our consumers. With power theft you have a loss of revenue and that loss is a sign that someone has to pay for someone else. It’s not fair that those who pay end up paying for those who don’t.
What are the root causes and consequences of all this theft?
We have thousands of consumers who are not registered, not listed. For many of them, it is as if they weren’t citizens at all because in Brazil an electricity bill, a water bill or a telephone bill are proof of legal address. So becoming legitimate consumers of a power company offers them the ability to fully exercise their citizenship. This more than anything is what justifies this program we are undertaking, to set everything in order to include our customers as citizens in the security, practical, economic and legal sense.
This more than anything is what justifies this program we are undertaking, to set everything in order to include our customers as citizens in the security, practical, economic and legal sense.Luiz Henrique Hamann, Distribution Director Eletrobras
Eletrobras is in the process of integrating Energia+ smart grid technology. What is the goal?
We are hoping Energia+ makes for changes in the behavior of our consumers, not only in reducing thefts, but in their favorable reaction to high quality, safe and reliable power at prices that are really attractive to them. It will position our company at the forefront of technological development and create more customer satisfaction for having a steady production and distribution of energy, without oscillations and interruptions and at consistent prices.
Eletrobras hopes that customers whose energy use is measured will soon see that as an advantage?
With smart meters being introduced at 12,500 high voltage customers and 103,000 low voltage units, we believe consumers will soon see an advantage to being measured in that they will experience consistent billing and charging, with service that preserves the safety of the customer. By contrast consumers who choose to be “not measured” via fraud or theft will choose to ignore the lack of safety of the installations they are using.
Also with new smart meters, consumers will have at their disposal the means to estimate their consumption and reduce it at the opportune time. Fraudulent consumption, on the other hand, is free, uncontrolled consumption that distorts the demand for generation. In one or two years from now, I think we will have effectively gained control over energy losses resulting from fraud and theft. As these thefts are reduced, so will the bills that everyone pays.
Will reducing fraud also make the electricity grid more reliable?
From the moment that people start stealing electricity – that is, people tapping into the system and disregarding the measurement and regulation that should govern the grid – we can no longer control it. The distribution systems become unbalanced and cause lower frequencies and transformers to burn, sometimes causing interruptions that make the entire system shut down. Converting irregular power users to legitimate consumers will reduce these events and make electricity cheaper and more reliable.
Converting irregular power users to legitimate consumers will reduce these events and make electricity cheaper and more reliable.Luiz Henrique Hamann, Distribution Director Eletrobras
To equip Energia+, Eletrobras chose Siemens’ MDM solution (EnergyIP + EIP NTL) integrated with Eletrobras billing and management systems. Why this system over other options?
Siemens is a major global equipment manufacturer and the equipment allocated to Energia+ brings what is most modern in the world in this sector. We are already seeing the first results appearing in advanced measurements that are essential factors for the process and for the project’s success. The success we are seeing and that we expect to come could only have been possible with a partner such as Siemens. It’s a world-renowned company that certainly will continue collaborating with the Brazilian electricity sector for a long time.
We are sitting in the Metering Intelligence Center in Brasilia which is the nerve center of Energia+ and which just opened in April. Is the system performing up to expectations?
The results are what we expected. Obviously we would like it to be quicker. The world turns too fast. We have many challenges to meet. But we would not want anything other than what has been achieved. We are confident that this center should enable us to come to the forefront, by bringing the best technology to the realities in which our companies operate. By using what is most modern on the world scene, the Siemens system can only mean a brighter future for Eletrobras and its customers.
Chris Kraul is a freelance writer based in Bogota, Colombia.
Picture credits: Andre Vieria
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