Electricity theft is a real and serious problem in countries all over the world. Not only does it result in higher rates for paying customers, it creates physical danger in the form of hollowed out utility poles and damage to the grid in the form of power surges and outages due to high loads. Done manually, identifying and confirming theft is a time-consuming and inefficient process. Enforcement and labor-intensive site audits often cost more than the value of the actual losses.
In underdeveloped and developing countries this issue is much more important because the loss of energy translates into higher premiums for already scarce resources and pulls funds from citizens and governments that could otherwise be used for future capital investments and modernizing infrastructure.Smart grids, also known as Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) installed at key points in the distribution grid use sensors to identify anomalies like when meters have been tampered with or removed from their location. This information can be combined with software that allows municipalities to accurately monitor consumption, adjust energy flow and create optimal balances between supply and demand.
While the roll out in first world countries has seen success, the technology has previously been very expensive for use by developing nations who would benefit from it the most. To combat this issue, cost-effective solutions are being tested in different markets around the world. A researcher from Midlands State University in Zimbabwe has developed a framework for creating a smart grid that can monitor electricity theft using mobile technologies.
By updating consumer meters with Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards, a sensor and battery, they will be able to facilitate communication to a back-end system using the Unstructured Supplementary Services Data (USSD) gateway at the mobile switching center. This way, the meters can still communicate with the power carrier even if the meter gets disconnected from the electricity grid as a result of tampering.
The report identifies GSM as the ideal network for sending information and alerts to the utility control center. Using a process of detection, recognition and communication, the installed monitoring mechanisms should be able to support the transmission of small payloads of data based on a duty cycle. In this schema, the monitoring indicator goes to sleep and wakes up when the time interval is detected for scheduled or periodic reporting.
Using the ideas presented in the report, countries that are not equipped with 4G infrastructure can still benefit from and utilize Internet of Things (IoT) technology. By way of mobile cellular networks, these nations have a means to acquire actionable analytics on the physical state of devices, equipment and infrastructure.