Lebanon’s electricity sector has seen very little investment due to the long period of unrest there. The country now has to rebuild its power sector and network literally from scratch.
According to Carla Aoun, General Manager for the National Electrical Utility Company in Lebanon, the electric network suffers the most. She explains, “It is an easy victim as cables are erected in close proximity to residential and commercial areas where they can be easily tampered with. Consumers will do anything to get that power in order to meet basic electricity needs even if it means stealing.”
Lebanon has a significantly high level of electricity loss. Currently, the grid loses about 40% of its power to technical (15%) and non-technical (25%) reasons. The non-technical losses are made up of illegal violations. Aoun says that it’s not the number of violations that is costing the sector-it is the individual value of illegal violations on the grid.
The current standard electromechanical meters, which were used back in the 1960s, are not helping the utility or the 60% law abiding customers since the technology cannot isolate violations. Field workers have to be sent out to investigate illegal connections and tampering. This is obviously not a very efficient solution for the sector.
Because of tampering and theft, Lebanon does not have a reliable power supply. In fact, greater Beirut receives 21 hours of power each day and the southern region receives a mere 15 hours, explains Nadim Gerges (pictured), Head of Procurement at the National Electrical Utility Company in Lebanon, who will be speaking at the European Utility week this year.
The regular outages occur mainly as a result of fire accidents which are caused by illegally overloaded substations.
Smart meter and network plans
It is for this reason that the country is turning to smart meters for help. The National Electrical Company in Lebanon signed a US$300 million contract in April 2012 for 52 months. One of their main focus areas is advanced metering infrastructure.
While the heart of the sector’s project is smart metering, the national network will need to be brought to an acceptable level so that it can support smart metering installation. Only then can utilities and honest customers enjoy the benefits of the smart meter.
According to Gerges, the implementation of smart meters on the current distribution network, described as unstable and substandard, has been very challenging. Exhaustive network surveys have been carried out in order to pinpoint issues and resolve them by following a maintenance plan. “We expect to resolve the biggest network challenges before the end of this year.”
The National Electric Utility Company launched a pilot project with two manufacturers, Sagem (France) and ZIV (Spain). The results will be known imminently. The National Utility Company installed approximately 1600 meters in various regions throughout the south. Once satisfactory official results are released, approval will be given to roll out 600,000 smart meters in the region, a contractual obligation that was signed with Électricité Du Liban (EDL).
Convincing the customer
According to Aoun, honest customers have been very open to receiving meters since they suffer from so many cuts due to illegally overloaded substations.
Says Gerges, “It won’t be difficult to convince the honest customer since it will be in their best interest if we exercise more control over consumption. This will help from a safety point of view too-fire hazards will be a thing of the past.”
The network improvements and introduction of smart meters will help alleviate feeder overload. Already in some areas, the overload dropped from 140% to 75% on average. The voltage has also increased in some areas as a result of the improvements. “This will be a huge lifestyle change for customers.”
The small group of customers involved in the pilot project was approached on a one-on-one basis. However, for the roll-out of 600,000 smart meters, a national campaign will be designed to communicate the benefits to customers.
The benefits of the massive rollout will be communicated via mass email, radio, television talk shows, adverts, and billboards. Gerges says they will also use the council of municipalities to communicate the benefits to customers.
With a more reliable power supply, Lebanon is looking forward to attracting investors to its shores and commercial customers can expect to see a healthier bottom line. Most companies rely on diesel operated generators as back-up power which can prove to very expensive. Customers are therefore paying double bills-the utility and neighbourhood generators. With a more reliable power supply, eventually, there will be no need for these generators.
Renewable power generation is definitely on the cards, says Aoun but the lack of environmental education in the country is a big obstacle.
While the return on investment will be calculated by Électricité Du Liban, Aoun expects the 25% power loss to be reduced to at least 20%. This should be attained within a 12 to 18 month period as large amounts of finance are recovered.
In conclusion, we asked Gerges what he expected to gain from the European Utility Week conference and he said that he hoped to share experiences with other utilities, as well as learn from others.