Africa’s Electricity can’t Match its Economy

By Kathleen Davis, Associate Editor

You can’t make a product without power. As Africa’s economy expands exponentially—and its generation and grid fail to keep up—that statement, though obvious, is being proved repeatedly with real-world examples.

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The World Bank estimates that electricity cuts have hit 35 African nations, slowing the growing mining industry, as well as other bourgeoning businesses, and frustrating thousands of consumers. Of those 35, The World Bank labels 25 countries “in crisis” in the area of power availability.

“Although the African continent is well endowed both with fossil fuels and renewable resources, these are not evenly distributed, creating windfall profits for some countries and exacerbating the crisis in others,” the World Bank notes on its energy website. “The African power sector struggles with exceptionally low access—as low as 2 percent of some populations with access to electricity—poor reliability, and high costs. More recently, the situation has been intensified by droughts, high oil prices, and conflict.”

Conflicts aren’t just creating power issues. These days, power issues are also creating conflicts.

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, the outages themselves are leading to violence. The Journal points directly to Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where angry residents “chased away the power company’s bill collectors with machetes,” the article stated.

Angry residential customers in war-torn countries aside, the most visible issue in the African energy conundrum remains Eskom, South Africa’s government-owned utility.

They’ve had a series of outages and have now officially admitted to a “power crisis.” In fact, there has been so much load shedding in South Africa by the utility that Eskom has a load shedding status “gage” on the front page of its website. It runs from “safe” at the top to “danger” at the bottom and allows customers to get an instant idea of how close they might be to going dark—provided they can access the web. In fact, most of the media releases that Eskom has offered to the public in the last three months have had to do with load shedding, load management or power alerts, and this is taking a toll on the economy.

Anglo American, a mining company in South Africa, could seriously cut their platinum operation in 2008. And, they are pointing the finger directly at power, or the lack thereof.

“We’ve said publicly that the first big outage [in January] had an impact of about 30,000 ounces of platinum. We are looking at another 120,000 for the rest of the year,” Cynthia Carroll, Anglo CEO told Reuters in late April. (That first big power glitch in January brought down all the mines in the country for nearly a week.)

Eskom is working to keep up, but the battle is daunting. Energy stats tell a horror story of swimming against an overwhelming current: demand rising 30 percent faster than supply in the last decade and a doubling of people with access to electricity. President Thado Mbeki recently conceded that the government should have planned better for this crisis, as it was warned about it years before. However, admissions of partial guilt don’t do much to help with the current crisis.

Eskom admits the problems are widespread and that they won’t go away anytime soon. They’re predicting supply shortages for the next five years, but they have plans—and load shedding is simply the most drastic and immediate option.

The Ministers of Public Enterprises and Minerals and Energy, public officials and Eskom have agreed to establish a national task team (in theory) to work on volunteer reductions (a demand response-esque answer to their woes), rather than required load shedding to achieve targeted savings. They don’t think they’ll be able to phase out load shedding completely, but it could help significantly.

Agreement to establish the task team was reached during a briefing and information sharing session on April 18 set up by government to help manage the energy emergency. However, no actual meetings of this task force have been planned, as of press time for this article.

In the meantime, Eskom is looking at importing more power, which will help, as long as the grid remains stable. Eskom will pull an additional 250 MW of power from Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa hydro-electric power station, according to an agreement signed in early April. The power will be supplied over a network extending through Zimbabwe and Botswana to the South African grid or via the HVDC line to Apollo.

Right now, their biggest option is still more load shedding, to balance what they label “constrained conditions.”

The load-shedding schedule averages about two hours of interruption occurring every second day (except Sunday). Eskom has also asked consumers to save 10 percent of their consumption to reduce demand, but no official demand response program is in place. Eskom is offering an incentive, though, to sweeten the 10 percent call: if an industrial customer or municipality achieves the reduction goal, they can apply for exclusion from the scheduled load shedding. But, there’s also the emergency load shedding, and there, all bets are off, whether you scraped together that 10 percent or not.

“The effectiveness of saving electricity has been clearly illustrated by the system stabilization achieved since February 2008. This period of stable operation was due to generation performance improvement and the 10 percent load reduction largely by Eskom’s key industrial customers. If all consumers across the country adopt the same attitude to power saving as our key industrial customers, it will significantly reduce the likelihood of load shedding,” stated Erica Johnson, Eskom’s officer of networks and customer service.

So, it looks like Eskom will continue to struggle with balancing its upgrades with economic demands for years to come. And, then there’s what every sportsman fears: that all these power woes will interrupt the 2010 soccer World Cup, set to be hosted by the country.

Michael Tatalias, with the country’s tourism council, was quoted by the Associated Press lamenting the situation and how it could impact the positive influx of capital the World Cup promises.

“Will people come to South Africa to see [the Cup games] if they know they will be going back to hotels and guest houses with no power? That means no hot meals, no clean laundry, no lights.”

And while that would be unfortunate for the tourist industry in 2010, here in 2008, the average African is facing the possibility of cold food, dirty laundry and darkness in everyday life, not just on vacation.

EPRI Analysis Boosts the Positives of Energy Efficiency Programs

Energy efficiency improvements in the U.S. electric power sector could reduce electric consumption by 7 percent to 11 percent more than currently projected over the next two decades if key barriers can be addressed, according to a preliminary analysis of potential energy savings.

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The draft findings were presented by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) during an Edison Foundation conference.

That demand growth projection would be even higher without the implementation of existing building codes, appliance standards and market-driven consumer incentives, which will shave electricity consumption by 23 percent, according to the EPRI-EEI study. However, additional efficiency gains could be achieved only by overcoming major market, regulatory and consumer barriers, the analysis found.

“This study demonstrates the potential of energy efficiency to offset some of the projected need for new electric generation as cutting-edge technologies become available and are adopted,” said Dr. Michael Howard, senior vice president at EPRI. “We think a 7 percent efficiency improvement is realistic—and gains of 11 percent or more are technologically feasible—depending on the degree to which various obstacles can be overcome.”

Diane Munns, executive director at EEI, said the power sector will seek the greatest efficiency gains possible, but cautioned that this will be no easy task and that utilities still must plan for substantial new generation and transmission to assure reliability.

“Achieving efficiency improvements going significantly beyond those already in the pipeline will be a major undertaking,” Munns said. “No matter how you slice it, we’ll have to build significant new generation to ensure that we meet demand. The greater gains we make in energy efficiency, the better off everyone will be, because we’ll have more cost-effective options for serving our customers,” she said. “But if we overestimate what can be accomplished, we could find ourselves without an adequate supply of electricity to meet consumer needs.”

“We are making remarkable technological advances in the area of efficiency,” Howard said. “The question is how much more can we achieve? The key will be finding the will to fully demonstrate and adopt both currently available and emerging, hyper-efficient electric technologies.”

Copies of the EPRI-EEI presentation are available on the Edison Foundation’s website,


“Relative to the meters you have now, the new ones are pretty smart; relative to the meters they should be installing, they’re pretty stupid.”

—Kurt Yeager, executive director of the Galvin Electricity Initiative, quoted in an April 20th, 2008, L.A. Times article “Smart Meters May Soon be Outdated.”


Montana-Dakota Utilities Co., a provider of gas and electric service in the Northern Great Plains, has awarded Blue Heron Consulting Corporation a contract to be their prime system integration partner to implement Oracle Utilities Customer Care & Billing product.

CenterPoint Energy Files to Deploy Up to 250,000 Meters

CenterPoint Energy’s electric transmission and distribution subsidiary, CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, filed with the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) an advanced metering system initial deployment plan. The plan is subject to review and approval by the PUC. Following issuance of an acceptable order by the PUC, the company anticipates that it would begin deployment of up to 250,000 interactive meters and related infrastructure over a three-year period.

“This new metering technology is the first step in moving the electric grid into the digital age,” said Tom Standish, regulated operations group president for CenterPoint Energy. “This innovative technology should encourage greater energy conservation by giving Houston-area electric consumers the ability to better monitor and manage their electric use and its cost in near real-time.”

The interactive meter will enable retail electric providers (REPs) to offer new products and services, such as time-of-use rates, to customers. Interactive meters will also enable customers to take advantage of greater transparency regarding their usage and allow them better means to evaluate various REP rates, helping customers to seek the best retail prices and services.

In its filing, the company is seeking to recover the initial deployment cost of the advanced metering system in two separate monthly charges. All REPs will be billed a monthly infrastructure charge for eight years based on usage. The filing projects this charge to be about $1.75 per month for each REP customer, based on usage of 1,000 kWh. The second charge of about $4.75 per month would be billed to REPs for each interactive meter the company installs for that REP’s customers. That charge would continue for five years after the meter is installed.


“Until now, utilities incorporating smart meters from different manufacturers into their AMI architecture needed to spend time installing separate compatibility software applications and training employees to use them to ensure the smart meters operate efficiently and cost-effectively. Technology that helps resolve these issues gives utilities the resources they need to operate as efficiently as possible.”

—Patti Harper-Slaboszewicz, director of AMR demand response for UtiliPoint International on the announcement of SmartSynch’s router solution.


EnerNOC, Inc., a developer and provider of clean and intelligent energy solutions, has entered the final stages of two four-year contracts with ISO New England, Inc. for demand response capacity in southwest Connecticut.


EIB finances submarine link: The European Investment Bank is advancing a EUR 300 million loan to Terna–Rete Elettrica Nazionale S.p.A., which is responsible in Italy for electricity transmission and dispatching over the high-voltage and extra-high voltage grid, to help finance a new submarine high-voltage power cable between the Italian mainland and Sardinia. The project, known as SAPEI (SArdegna-PEnisola Italiana) involves laying a 1,000-MW power cable with a submarine section length of 420 km and two short land lines, linked to two converter stations.

Upon completion of the works, two records will be set: the link will be the deepest direct-current cable ever laid (1,600 meters at the deepest point, breaking the previous record of 1,000 meters for the Italy-Greece link, which was also undertaken by Terna and part-financed by the EIB), and the length of the cable (420 km) will make it one of the longest ever laid, according to Terna.

SAPEI will replace the direct-current power line between Sardinia, Corsica and Italy (SACOI), and encourage the development of wind power on Sardinia.

UCTE-IPS/UPS Feasibility Study finds conclusions: The study analyzing the feasibility of a possible synchronous coupling of the power systems of IPS/UPS (Baltic states, Russia, etc.) with UCTE (Europe) has been completed after a three-year investigation phase. The results underline the overall complexity of a synchronous coupling taking into consideration both system security and market aspects; it finds that internal congestion will keep transfers to a minimum right now. As a medium-term perspective, system coupling by HVDC technology is considered as an evident solution to join the Eastern and Western transmission systems. The conclusions point out that even if a synchronous coupling appears technically viable, it must be considered as a long-term option. Details on the study are available online:

Utilities Commissioner Confirms Investigation into 2007 Power Line Fires

California Public Utilities Commissioner Timothy Alan Simon has confirmed an ongoing investigation into the cause of several 2007 power line fires and proposed that the full commission adopt a detailed scope of the investigation and a deadline for a report on results.

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This comes in response to a November 2007 petition from San Diego Gas & Electric that the commission reevaluate safety rules governing construction and maintenance of power lines in high fire risk areas. Commissioner Simon proposes rejecting the petition as premature, pending completion of the investigation and because SDG&E made no specific recommendations for rule changes.

“Residents of suburban San Diego County and elsewhere may not know it, but one of the greatest threats to their safety and property may be wildfires ignited by backcountry power lines during high winds,” said David Hogan, conservation manager with the Center for Biological Diversity. “There’s a solution to this issue that’s so simple it’s deeply disturbing it’s never been done: Turn off the electricity on remote power lines during Santa Ana winds.”

Power lines have been cited as a cause of southern California wildfires. Not counting the 2007 fires, 17 percent of all areas burned in San Diego County since 1960 were from fires that originated from power lines, according to the Center. Commissioner Simon’s proposed decision identifies seven power line related wildfires in October 2007 as having burned at least 272,000 acres.

SmartSynch Jazzes up the Big Easy


By Kathleen Davis, Associate Editor

SmartSynch held their I3 Symposium in New Orleans April 14-16. They kicked off the three-day conference with a dinner at the Ritz-Carton on Canal St. featuring local football legend Archie Manning as keynote speaker. A football great in his own right, Manning is also the father to both Peyton and Eli Manning. He spoke about team work, management and leadership.

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Team work, management and leadership seemed to be themes that ran throughout SmartSynch’s symposium, whether the smart grid or networks were under discussion, the gathering emphasized the industry working together—vendors, customers, utilities, regulators—to find solutions to technology and interconnection issues, as well as regulatory demands.

SmartSynch CEO Stephen Johnston began the first conference session with a “state of the union” address about the company. He also introduced a new routing solution they’ve developed for their SmartMeter System. According to Johnston, it enables smart meters from different meter manufacturers to interoperate across the same (or different) networks, be they GPRS, CDMA or Wi-Fi.

“Just to cover that point: The state of the union is good,” Johnston told the crowd. “It’s an exciting time to be in this industry, because the technologies we choose today will shape this industry’s future.”

He added, “Our commitment to you is to “˜build new stuff.’ We’re going to innovate. That’s what we do.”

After Johnston’s announcement, three speakers laid out their viewpoints about “Market Forces, from AMI to Smart Grid to the Future,” as the title of the session spelled out. This morning meeting featured J.D. Hammerly, the VP of Energy Infrastructure Solutions from Battelle Energy Technology, Dan Delurey, executive director of the Demand Response Coordinating Committee, and Jon Brock, president and COO of UtiliPoint International.

Hammerly opened the conference side of the symposium with interesting concepts, looking at demand response from the aspect of cash.

“There’s a direct tie between revenue and demand response,” he stated, pointing out that the first spinning reserves that show up in a market come from demand response, not from revving up generation.

Hammerly went on to reveal that the supply-driven market of the current power industry “cannot continue,” that we must balance the supply/demand equation in order to meet growing energy demands, growing regulatory demands, and to answer questions about carbon efficiency.

He listed a number of ways to balance the equation: asset utilization methods like thermostats and end-use control devices, as well as distributed resources and storage; enabling technologies that value communications, performance and protocol, like grid-friendly appliances; customer engagement that is non-invasive and thoughtful; and value realization for peak energy, grid congestion and ancillary services.

He concluded that “demand response needs to become an equivalent source to generation.”

When asked how to make customers interested in demand response, Hammerly stated, “Reach into areas that customers don’t care so much about. Don’t turn off the TV during “˜American Idol.’ Instead, put off washing the dishes for five or 10 minutes.”

Brock, from Utilipoint International, took a look back at the history of the power industry since 1992, which he summed up by saying that “regulatory “˜bliss’ led to a retail “˜craze’ which moved to a “˜back-to-basics’ idea then on to “˜innovation,’ which brings us to the smart grid/smart metering place” we are now. But, in the end, there’s been a bit of “full circle” going on.

“Regulatory recovery was ” and is ” the name of the game,” he said, adding that “AMI, MDM and demand response go hand in hand.”

Those regulatory issues, Brock pointed out, have led to longer sales cycles and a larger number of pilot programs, which is where demand response can lighten the load. He thinks the time is right for these kinds of programs.

“What we’ve seen recently is an interest on the part of regulators, consumer advocates and customers for something from utilities other than higher bills,” he stated.

“We’re starting to see younger people want to change the world. The new society will make changes with that benefit in mind, but, for today’s customer, the big incentive is money [when it comes to demand response programs],” he added.

Thinking about the customer led nicely to the following luncheon, which featured a speech by Brent Rice, executive director for customer solutions at PNM Resources and dove-tailed nicely into the afternoon conference session about preparing for AMI and how AMI can enable the smart grid. That session offered a host of speakers from Rick Pospiech, senior financial analyst at DTE Energy to Matt Smith, director of technology development for Duke’s “Utility of the Future” project.

Pospiech, with DTE Energy, discussed the partnership they have personally developed with SmartSynch to remotely read interval meters. They installed 575 smart meters in the DTE Service Area to support choice profiling. The meters replaced ones with analog telemetry.

The meter project was rolled out at the same time DTE Energy was introducing a new enterprise business system (EBS), and a new meter data management (MDM) system. They had two months to bench-test, provide training, and install the new meters, but they had a dedicated project support team from SmartSynch to help them, Pospiech stated. Ninety percent of the meters were successfully installed, a number far higher than the 70 percent they say in 1999. He attributed the success to: self-contained under the glass technology, communication validation field tests performed throughout the DTE Service Area using a SmartSynch Communication Validation Unit (CVU), and less than 1 percent of the sites experiencing communication failures.

The final conference session, “The Intersection of Emerging Technologies with the Utility of the Future,” brought together experts from AT&T Mobility, Comverge, Motorola, Sprint and T-Mobile to discuss networks and strategies for supporting the utility of the future. Details about backward compatibility, secure data problems and case studies were discussed.

Tom Gregor, manager of sales engineering at T-Mobile, brought it all full circle with his speech on how demand response can help move the “peak” and cut down the “peak” for a utility network.

“Demand response is a small part of a portfolio solution for utilities today,” he stated, and that portfolio includes many options from vendors in the energy arena. As each session brought home the point of teamwork in the energy industry, and that teamwork doesn’t mean you lose your competitive edge.

“This market is very large, and it’s global,” Johnston stated earlier in the symposium. “There will be many winners in this space.”

Board Approves Critical Transmission Project

The Imperial Irrigation District (IID) Board of Directors in Southern California unanimously approved a critical transmission upgrade project. Phase 1 involves the construction of an eight-mile portion of the planned 35-mile transmission project near the Salton Sea between the existing IID Energy Midway substation and the proposed Bannister substation. In addition, the board approved funding for Phases 2-4 to finalize environmental and acquisition rights-of-way for the remaining 27 miles of transmission.

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Part of IID Energy’s overall Green Path Transmission Expansion plan, the new line will increase the reliability of IID Energy’s transmission infrastructure while spurring the growth of the Imperial Valley’s budding renewable energy industry.

“With a 40,000 MW renewable energy potential in the Imperial Valley, IID has more than 22 generator interconnection requests currently on the books waiting to be processed. Many of these are expected to come on-line within the next five years. Creating the needed transmission capacity for these generators can make or break their ability to operate in our area,” said IID energy assistant manager Juan Carlos Sandoval.

IID Energy is one of the fastest-growing utilities in the nation and provides electric power to over 140,000 customers in Imperial County and parts of Riverside and San Diego counties.


Utility Automation & Engineering T&D desires cover art. We’re looking for artistic shots of hardware and equipment. Up close, creative. Must be T&D specific. We prefer photos as digital images in .jpg format and at least 254 dpi. You can e-mail them to Kathleen Davis, associate editor, for consideration: We can attribute the photo to your company and photographer on the table of contents in the printed issue (if accepted). We do not, however, pay for cover photos.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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