As South Africa comes to terms with yet another price increase for electricity, other countries are implementing smart grid technology. There has been a lot of talk about smart grids in the local media and everyone regards it as something that will be implemented at some point.
Given Cyril Ramaphosa’s SONA speech and what looks like the splitting of Eskom into generation, transmission and distribution businesses under a state holding company, it would make sense to empower consumers not only to choose who to buy power from, but also to actively manage their consumption.
France realised that its national grid would face increasing demand back in 2012. The country embarked on a programme to enable smarter management of its grid demand by implementing a system that could communicate with all energy consumers and cause active energy demand management. The programme was piloted in the city of Lyon in 2015. It proved successful and as a result Enedis (formerly ERDF) is replacing all electrical meters in France with the Linky smart meter.
The programme is scheduled for completion by 2021. All 35 million Linky meters have an RF module, which enables the KNX RF Multi and ZigBee protocol. For those of you unfamiliar with KNX, it is a multivendor platform used for residential and commercial building automation. It is manufacturer agnostic so has over 450 manufacturers who make products for the bus. This ensures compatibility between manufacturers and ensures a completive pricing environment. It was developed over 25 years ago and has been adopted as a standard for building automation in a number of countries, notably, EU, China and most recently Australia. There are a number of suppliers of KNX components in South Africa and a number of integrators who are engaged in projects in all corners of the country.
The Linky meter will allow new services to the customer such as tariff management, whereby appliances adapt their behaviour to the best current or future tariffs. The Linky meter is associated with a central device in the house to provide the user with a display of current real-time consumption and production of electrical energy. It also can be associated with control equipment, for example, electrical boilers or electrical heating, for energy optimisation. Furthermore, the user can profit from peak avoidance and load shedding by buying or offering energy at advantageous times.
Dynamic tariffs are not a reality in South Africa at the moment, but given the current climate of energy scarcity, I should imagine this is something that is being seriously looked at. It would allow the consumer to make decisions about consumption and use technology to limit energy use to periods when the power is cheap.
Standardisation and security
The KNX Association’s KNX interworking group has worked on standardisation of the Linky meter functionality in the Application Note 179 ERL Channel. This defines all of the group communication objects, including all the parameters and functionalities. The KNX System Group improved security by adding a number of features to make it easy to implement.
New data security requirements have resulted in some changes in KNX stack implementations. KNX Secure devices use encrypted telegrams so that traffic cannot be intercepted and manipulated.
The Linky Meter can communicate with a building over the two most popular protocols in the market, namely KNX and Zigbee. If the building has a smart system running one of these protocols it can utilise the KNX or Zigbee components within the building to facilitate economic running of the building in conjunction with the utility.
The South African energy landscape is about to change and the adoption of these sorts of technologies is inevitable. To prepare for a ‘smarter’ future, those who own and manage buildings would be well served if they investigated implementing smart technologies into their buildings.
Matthew Carter is the owner of KNX Electronic Components a KNX Systems consultant and wholesaler. In addition to this, as president of the local KNX National group he spends a lot of time promoting KNX amongst those involved in the energy efficiency space and the electrical trade.