Brazil's Biggest Ever Smart Grid in Works To Deter Power Thieves

By Steve Anderson April 30, 2013

Power theft is, at last report, a major problem in Brazil, and to that end, the largest distributor of power in Brazil as measured by market value—Eletropaulo Metropolitana de Electricidade de Sao Paulo SA—is looking to bring in smart grid technology to help stem the tide of power thieves throughout Brazil. But this just isn't any smart grid setup; rather, it’s the largest such project to be seen yet in Brazil.

In a bid to reduce power theft in Brazil, Eletropaulo will be putting in fully 60,000 meters in homes and businesses that work to monitor power consumption. The project is set to cost around $36 million U.S., and take until 2015 to fully implement. The meters will particularly target an area known as Barueri, a suburb of Sao Paulo, and will allow Eletropaulo to monitor electric meters remotely to better spot power thieves and shut down said operations remotely, without having to even dispatch employees to check the meters and perform the shutdowns.

Power theft is actually quite a problem for Eletropaulo; its AES Corp. unit reportedly loses about 3.8 percent of its total power annually to thieves. Yet with such technology in place, the losses prevented by the meters should allow the meters to pay for themselves in around eight years, according to reports. This is a good thing, as only part of the cash going to pay for the meters will come from an Eletropaulo fund the government requires the company to maintain specifically for matters of research and development. The rest of the money will come from a rate increase to normal customers, an amount that has not yet been determined.

Power thieves, however, are likely breathing a sigh of relief at the discovery that Eletropaulo's project will take some time to be put in place. Eletropaulo, at last report, hasn't even decided just what kind of technology to use, and isn't expected to even announce the required tech specs behind the project until the end of June. The resulting meters are to be installed starting next year, with a basic model for low-income families expected to go online starting this June.

Undoubtedly, Eletropaulo's customers likely aren't happy at the prospect of paying more for power to help solve Eletropaulo's theft problems, but then, they likely wouldn't be happy at the thought of paying more to cover the missing power taken by the power thieves in the first place. Smart grid systems have proven somewhat controversial in their own right on some levels, but bringing them in is likely to help prevent power theft, so certainly this problem may well be solved by this measure.

Eletropaulo is clearly out to solve a problem, and this may well be the best way to do it. The solution, however, may prove to be just as complex as the problem was, and may well create new problems in its wake. Hopefully, Eletropaulo will have a solution waiting for those, if they ever arrive.

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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