Sun | Sep 24, 2017

JPS to invest $6.5b in smart meters, estimates illegal connections of 180,000

Published:Wednesday | May 25, 2016 | 5:00 AMSteven Jackson
A JPS technician works on power lines in this 2015 Gleaner file photo.

Power utility company Jamaica Public Service (JPS) has reassessed the cost of its smart metering programme, aimed at curtailing energy losses and possibly electricity theft, at US$52 million ($6.5 billion) to be spent over five years.

Concurrently, the JPS revealed that it conservatively estimates that 180,000 consumers are illegally connected to its grid. That number is equivalent to more than a third quarter of its customer base.

JPS previously told The Gleaner of plans to invest US$40 million over five years in smart meters. It upsized the plan in its latest annual tariff review submission to its regulator last week.

The utility plans to install 205,000 Smart Grid advanced meter infrastructure (AMI) units between 2016 and 2020 with an intended impact of 2.81 per cent reduction in losses.

"The average cost per customer is estimated at US$250 with a total investment of US$52 million for the planning period," said JPS in its annual tariff review. It plans to spend US$6.8 million this year on residential AMI.

The Smart Grid AMI project involves the replacement of existing meters with smart meters for residential and small commercial or rate 20 customers. JPS would then install transformer meters and build out a "smart grid communication network" to support remote connectivity to these meters.

REVAMPED SOLUTION

"This revamped solution will revolutionise the way in which technology, human resources, systems, analytics and energy measurements are integrated towards realising both utility and customer expectations," said JPS.

Over the last two years, the light and power company installed around 60,000 smart meters covering one-tenth of its 580,000 customers. All large commercial and industrial consumers, totalling around 5,000 accounts, were already on smart meters.

The JPS ultimately wants to reduce its system losses which hovers above 26 per cent, of which eight percentage points or 31 per cent are technical in nature. The bulk of its losses are due to theft.

"While theft through energy diversion continues to be a challenge, the evolution of smart grid technologies has brought about better ways to analyse and identify potential diversion in a more deliberate and sustainable way. Smart meters and grid devices provide the type of data that can be leveraged by back-office analytics and software techniques to detect theft and support the next steps of revenue protection prosecution and payment collection," said JPS.

The utility estimates that around 180,000 households receive electricity illegally, but says the figure is likely higher. It said a comparison of its near 600,000 customer base with the estimated 800,000 households within the 2011 Census conducted by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica reveals a disparity.

"JPS' Customer Information System indicates that over 200,000 households may be connected illegally to JPS' grid. We recognise that a segment of the population resides in tenement housing facilities and therefore, we cannot say definitively, without further information, that all 200,000 households are illegally connected," the power company said.

"Our conservative assessment indicates that there are approximately 180,000 illegal consumers."

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com