GPL eyes upgrade to smart grid, meters – Badal

- live maintenance on the cards

The Guyana Power and Light Inc (GPL) will be moving towards making the current grid smart in order to improve its efficiency while increasing its capacity.

Speaking to Stabroek News on Friday, GPL Chairman Robert Badal said, “Our grid is still very old. A lot of lines have been there for years. We have Wallaba posts bracing on each other; so we have to examine the grid.” He said there was a need for the country to move towards “a smart grid” which would end physical meter reading.

“The meters can be checked centrally by adding better communicating technology, where the system communicates with the meters and it reads and generates its own billing. That’s the direction we have to take. We might still go check every three or six months but we will improve the reading with smart technology,” Badal explained.

“Those are the things we are looking at now so the nation should see a significant improvement. And we are focusing a lot on the grid.”

He explained that in changing the grid there will be major infrastructural works. “In some areas you’ll need to change the lines because you need ones that can relay information that can communicate. Lines with fibre optics built in,” he said. The current meters will also have to be changed to smart meters.

“It’s a lot of investment to do that but we will be doing it on a phased basis,” he said. The current Power Utility Upgrade Programme will be adding 54,000 smart meters and will also facilitate the upgrading and building of new substations that will all aid in a better functioning grid system.

“I know the perception out there is like we are going backwards but we are not,” Badal said. He pointed out that in terms of generation of electricity, the power company is producing enough. Referencing the spate of blackouts during the Christmas season, he explained that the problems were not because of generation, but isolated issues around the country.

He explained that the company’s focus is on transmission and distribution problems within the system, which contribute to majority of the “blackouts” that consumers face. “The problems people are seeing… are due to what you call system trips,” he said, while explaining that when the system detects a fault it would “trip” and shutdown in order to check the issue. However, if no issue is detected, it would be turned back on in 10 minutes.

“Those are responsible for 90% of what people call blackouts and we are fixing that. When the system was designed they didn’t put in certain things that could assess that so we are adding something they call an automatic re-closure so it wouldn’t take so long but would be about two seconds,” he added.

Additionally, Badal said, GPL will be instituting live maintenance. “Right now when we want to maintain you would’ve seen the city had to get 10 hours blackout. This was because we had to shut down an entire substation to do maintenance,” he said. He added that the company will be bringing in persons to train the current staff on how to do maintenance on live wires so there is no need to shut down entire substations. “People with protective gear would do maintenance without disturbing the supply of electricity which is a further improvement of the transmission and distribution system,” he stated. This plan is expected to be put in place sometime in the first quarter of this year.

Currently, the company is producing about 140MW and only has a demand of 114MW during peak time. However, Badal said, the power company plans to add an additional 32.9MW to the grid. “We had a problem with generation on the Essequibo Coast and we fixed that… but we also bought three 3.7MW (estimated at US$5.2 million) units, brand new that should be commissioned the latest in September to rectify Anna Regina and the surrounding areas,” he said.

Three smaller versions will be purchased for the Bartica area and in keeping with the town’s initiative of going green, the units will have solar components. Continuing on the green agenda, the chairman explained that the company completed its grid code, which will guide the regularization of the protocols to interface with other power producers. “It [the grid code] will dictate the capacity and voltage in areas. It will regulate our interaction with power producers,” he said, while pointing out that it should be in operation within the next two months.

In terms of independent power producers, Badal explained that GPL was in discussions over the wind farm and will be encouraging others to pursue other forms of alternative energy production to sell back to the company.

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