A smart device that could help SA achieve its energy saving targets

Knowledge is key to inspiring the behavioural change that is so crucial for South Africa to achieve its energy saving targets. 

Paroshen Naidoo

When people have visibility of their household’s energy load with instant insight into the fluctuations in consumption when appliances are switched on and off, they are not only empowered but also inclined to change their habits to cut consumption.

This is according to Paroshen Naidoo from Utillabs, a Midrand-based company that has been nominated for an award in the 2011 Eskom eta Awards for its smart Utility Load Management System.

Naidoo says that a 10% reduction in consumption can be achieved in the residential sector purely through behavioural change. However, a lack of understanding of how and where to apply energy saving tactics in the home means a lot people aren’t motivated to try. Many studies across nine countries show that when people have real-time insight into their household’s consumptions levels, and can immediately see how usage drops when they unplug an appliance, they become more conscious of the impact of their energy usage behaviour. The studies also suggest that with real-time insight, consumers can cut back their consumption by between 9% and 12%.

Utillabs Utility Load Management System delivers the visibility to empower people to make the right changes, while providing municipalities with monitoring, analysis and communication tools that help to optimise efficiencies and processes, and enable them to deliver a better customer service.

“With our smart system, municipalities and their customers become active partners in managing the demand for power and in alleviating the burden on the national supply,” says Naidoo

One of the devices forming part of the end-to-end system is the Eddi (Electricity Demand Display Instrument). Eddi is a clever, plug-and-play device that monitors and accurately displays a household’s electricity consumption in real-time. It is non-invasive and fits into any three-pin plug socket.

Aside from delivering feedback on current energy usage, Eddi can be used to alert electricity consumers when the power supply in their area is constrained. An alert on the display will notify the customer of the load limit that has been set by the utility in order to maintain the stability of the electricity network and prevent a power outage.

Util Labs’ load limiting technology was first tested-out with great success during an Eskom-sponsored pilot in Gauteng in 2008. The company has since refined the device and built in other features to the system to enhance the user experience. The system now features a user-friendly online dashboard which offers customers tools to view current usage, check overall consumption, calculate their carbon footprint and more.

“This information represents a quick win for consumers. They don’t have to wait two months in order to see how much electricity they’ve used and how much they have managed to save,” says Naidoo, adding when consumers have an understanding of the energy demand of appliances, they are more likely to look for energy efficient versions when it comes time to buy new appliances.

The Utility Load Management System gives municipalities the capability to monitor the electricity network at all points in real-time. Using the system, municipalities have full visibility of the network and they are better equipped to manage the load, prevent outages and pinpoint the area and cause of power failures.

“At the moment, municipalities only have visibility to sub-station level. This means that there are often delays in rectifying problems and turning the power back on in affected areas. Our smart system brings the whole LV distribution network into the utility’s control room. The system delivers alarms and event information on the network in real time. The intelligent analysis of these alarms allows the utility to test the lines and quickly pinpoint and diagnose faults.

“With the system, municipalities can improve efficiencies in terms of outage management, cut-offs and non-payment, as well as communicate directly and cost-effectively with customers by sending messages to the Eddi device,” Naidoo explains.

Utillabs is working hard to get municipalities to buy into the fully locally-developed and manufactured system, which has been patented in South Africa, the USA and UK. Already, Ulil Labs is managing 14 000 customers in various municipalities. The goal is to get four million of South Africa’s electricity using households onto the system.

“With just 2.5 million people on the system, actively employing meaningful behavioural tactics to save power in their own homes, we could save one whole power station,” says Naidoo.