Dario Labattaglia
Electricity Sales Manager Mexico & Central America
Itron
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View from the Top

Power Losses in Times of PLC

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 15:14

Q: What major challenges does CFE face as it modernizes Mexico’s power grid?

A: CFE is advancing quickly along the learning curve for power grid technologies. The state-owned company did not previously have the need to understand how information technology could optimize and improve its business but now it is starting to analyze how these technologies can impact its different business areas. We had the opportunity to meet with some of CFE’s executives and discussed how Itron’s solutions could help them accelerate technology adoption coupled with attractive returns on investment (ROI). Itron promotes efficiency in energy businesses so our objectives are aligned with CFE’s in its new role as a productive company of the state.

Nontechnical losses are one of CFE’s major challenges. Those represent a loss of about 15 percent of annual revenue, a huge problem for CFE. Another related problem is bad debt and delinquent customers, which result in the company losing another 15 percent of its revenue per year. But CFE has already started to take action to address these problems, an effort supported by the industry’s new regulatory framework. CFE has been investing in this sector since 2014 through financed public works (PIDIREGAS) schemes. The company has mostly focused its efforts on illegal connections, which are the most common type of electricity theft in the Valley of Mexico. Now it is looking for new technological solutions to identify the source of nontechnical losses.

Q: How can Itron’s technological solutions help CFE in this enterprise?

A: Our solutions offer CFE the possibility to identify where illegal connections are located, besides other technical and nontechnical losses. We do it by identifying abnormalities in the electric current and the system’s behavior. Our smart devices have a communication board that can locate electricity losses and communicate with other technological devices distributed along the electric power network. We can monitor the correct operation of the system and quickly identify if something is distorting the network while mapping its location accurately. Electricity theft is a social problem and technology can help reduce its incidence. Our technologies have the potential to help CFE understand the nature of its losses and optimize the person-hours required to solve them.

Q: What makes Itron’s solutions better than the competition?

A: We have a product consisting of a sensor-based device with characteristics that place intelligence at the cutting edge of the system’s physical frontiers. It offers the possibility to synchronize data in the field and has a computing capacity near to that of the iPhone 3, which is considerably high for a meter. It can process a significant amount of information, which companies require to become more efficient. By offering cutting- edge intelligence, our solution optimizes field work using additional applications. Besides this feature, our product has the same back-office intelligence as the rest of our competitors. Communication network infrastructure can become significantly smarter by adopting this tool as it can easily connect with other technological devices without overloading the network’s capabilities. The product uses two communication channels, radio frequency (RF) and Advanced Power Line Carrier (PLC), which is another advantage. This characteristic avoids physical interference with the communication between devices as PLC can send signals through electric cables if something is blocking RF signals.

Q: What complicates the implementation of PLC devices?

A: Technology adoption and infrastructure are the main barriers. The use of PLC communication is common in Europe because the electric grid is high quality, which is not the case in most Latin American countries. Most of the electrical infrastructure in Latin America is old and must be modernized to implement PLC technologies, so they use RF instead. However, RF technologies are not always the most suitable solution.