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30% decrease in power outages last year — JPS

Published:Friday | February 12, 2016 | 12:00 AMMcPherse Thompson
Gary Barrow, JPS Senior Vice President for Energy Delivery.

Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) said it saw an improvement in the reliability of power supply in 2015 with an average 30.3 per cent decrease in the frequency of outages when compared with the previous year.

Senior vice-president for energy delivery and technology, Gary Barrow, attributed that to the inclusion of technological intelligence which has been added and will continue to be added to the grid.

Barrow said at a media briefing at JPS' New Kingston offices, that the company was also gradually replacing its analogue meters with smart meters, a minicomputer embedded with a powerful microprocessor, which has communication capabilities, memory and is more advanced than computers that were around five years ago.

"It means, for our customers and for us, a greater level of control. So with these meters we can remotely connect you, we can remotely disconnect you, we can see your consumption real time," he said.

"For those of you involved in the theft of electricity, which is a big problem for society (and) not just JPS, these meters come with what we call tamper flags. So the moment there is any interference with this meter, an alarm is sent off and we are able to see it at a central location."

In addition to JPS being able to get all of that real-time information, the meter now allows the company to provide such information to its customers.

"This is an example of a portal that we have created, based on a pilot that we are now doing in Jack's Hill, where our customers can log in through the web and they are able to see real-time consumption; and they are able to see their energy costs, the voltage, the quality of their supply. They are able to see their demand real time and they are able to look over a period of time and see exactly what their consumption patterns are," said Barrow.

Smart technology

He said the company has installed 65,000 smart meters over the past three years and this year it is aiming to install another 25,000.

"In one year, based on the smart technology that we have embedded in our grid, we have been able to reduce frequency of outages by 30 per cent," said the power utility executive.

"This a far cry from where we were not very long ago, when everyone needed to know the blocks that they were in, their scheduled outages. ... I'm not saying it has completely disappeared because, of course, the grid is designed to fail, but we are moving towards what we call a self-healing network, where the duration of the outages are minimised and the frequency of the outages are minimised."

Barrow, noting that three years ago there was none of that intelligence in the network, explained that "previously, when there was an outage, a particular line that feeds our homes would go down. What would happen is that we would have to send out a crew which would determine what the problem is, they call back to system control, a crew would go out and they would take typically three to four hours" to restore electricity.

Now, with the automated distribution switches JPS is able to, from a central location, see the location of the outage and automatically switch the feed from that particular feeder that might be affected by the outrage to another feeder that is live.

"So what would typically take three to four hours is happening in a matter of minutes right now," said Barrow. "We are going to take it further because these devices have the capability of doing this automatically. So we are going to get to the stage where you won't even know when an outage happens on your feeder, because these switches will automatically switch to a feeder that is nearby"

He said JPS has already installed 74 such switches and is planning to put in an additional 50 over the next five years.