Smart grid will help cut electricity use

An advanced smart power grid could peak electricity use by as much as 20 per cent in the emirate.

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A more advanced power grid taking shape across the emirate could cut peak electricity use by as much as 20 per cent, lowering carbon pollution and reducing the investment burden on the Abu Dhabi Government, a power official says.

Such a "smart grid" would have its foundation in the digital electricity meters being installed in every home, Mohammed Moazzem Hossain, the operations planning and studies department manager of the Abu Dhabi Distribution Company (ADDC), said yesterday.

But it would also require extensive changes to power prices and new infrastructure to meet the "technically possible" 20 per cent estimate, Mr Hossain said. The ADDC supplies electricity and water to the capital and surrounding areas. Power consumption across the emirate spikes far above average in the afternoons of the hottest summer days because of increased airconditioning use. Generators to cope with peak demand are used as rarely as a few hundred hours every year, but still cost the Government hundreds of millions of dirhams in maintenance.

A more advanced power grid featuring digital meters and pricing that changes depending on the time of day, however, would communicate directly with each household and offer financial incentives to shift power use to off-peak hours. Lower rates at night might encourage consumers to wait until the evening to switch on their washing machines, for example, or give factories incentives to keep energy-intensive production lines turned off during the hottest afternoons.

Studies in western countries had shown smart grids could reduce peak consumption by between 10 and 15 per cent without compromising consumers' lifestyles, said Wajdi Ahmad, the technical solutions director of Middle East smart grids for the US company General Electric. "We're not saying 'turn off your AC'," Mr Ahmad told a power conference yesterday hosted by Frost & Sullivan, the management consultancy.

"There are two ways to meet the [power] demand: supply side management and demand side management, and so far we have only taken the supply side." But for such grids to take off in the region, utilities would need to introduce variable electricity pricing, Mr Ahmad emphasised. ADDC has been working all year to install digital electricity meters in every home and building to form the technological basis for such a grid. The company said in August that it expected to complete the installation campaign by the end of the year.

At first, the meters will simply offer customers and electricity providers more detailed data on the time of day that power consumption is highest, and identify sources of waste in the grid. But the meters could also form the technological backbone of a more advanced grid and allow consumers to sell surplus electricity back into the grid from rooftop solar panels. High-level policy changes that would pave the way for the second phase of grid development are under consideration by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, a leading decision-making body.

Mohammad Ahmad al Bowardi, the council's Secretary General, said last week it would come to a decision on proposals to change power pricing and create incentives for solar panels in "four to six weeks".