Electricity losses – a big blot on our nation’s escutcheon

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Dear Editor,

The reporters present at the recent presentation of my team and I, to the Natural Resources Sector Committee, seem to have missed the main messages that we sought to convey.

Electricity losses (technical and non-technical), of countries, are published and compared.  Our losses are a big blot on our nation’s escutcheon, something that we should all work to change – and we can change it, once we face up to it, and address it squarely.

It is true, as many media reported, that roughly about half of our losses could be attributed to some 3,000, or so, big customers, many being various businesses of varying sizes and, generally, sole proprietorship:  but it naturally follows, and it is also true, that the other half could be attributed to the 150,000, or so, small customers!  Guyana Power and Light (GPL) Inc. brooks no excuse from anyone, and pursues all erring customers.

Our total loss figures are not the highest in the world, but certainly they are at the ‘high end’.

The reports are that Latin American countries average 16%, North America, about 6%, and so too, Europe and Japan.  At the other end, India, Bangladesh and a number of African countries are at 50%, and more.  Closer to home, Jamaica has reported losses ranging between 14% and 23% over the last years, whilst Barbados is at about 7 to 8%.

As I said in the recent presentation, our electricity losses, both technical and non-technical, which fell from about 45% to 31% over the last 10 years, have been a source of embarrassment to me in my interaction with other Caricom Ministers Responsible for Electricity.  The technical losses reflect our nation’s

historical lack of money from the 1970s onward, and at the same time, the desire to meet our people’s call for electricity, in the adding of connections and, more recently, meeting an increasing demand as existing customers added refrigerators, air-conditioners and other appliances.

As I have learnt, all feeders have a thermal limit, a load at which, if exceeded, the feeder could fuse and start a fire. Standard utility practice is to not load feeders beyond 40% of their thermal limits – but with our nation’s limited amount of money, most feeders were loaded way above the standard. Many feeders were at 80 to 100% of their thermal limits.  The result has been high technical (heating) losses, voltage levels out of range, and frequent trips to protect the feeder from even small surges.  The nearly-completed GPL Transmission Upgrade programme, of about US$ 45 million, introducing, for the first time, sub-stations – seven at this time – at points in the network, will about halve the load on feeders, with consequential improvements in technical loss-reduction, greater conformity with the standard voltage levels, and reduced trips.  But similar considerations apply to the secondary distribution circuits and feeders, and GPL Inc. is working at this;  it could cost twice as much as the Transmission Upgrade – think of US$ 100 million.

In regard to non-technical losses, estimates are that these losses account for about 16% of generation.  The meter readings for over 55,000 of our 175,000 customers lead, astonishingly, to a billing of less than $2,300 per month, for electricity.  Some are true, but a large number must be understated.  A consideration of GPL Inc.’s billing, suggests that four, out of every five customers, pay all that they should, and one out of every five customers, through a number of collusions and conniving, is not being honest with GPL Inc., paying less than he/she should.

As we reported, we have been putting in place meters and systems recommended by various consultants, to fight non-technical losses.  Alas, as we also reported, many ways have been found to thwart our efforts, and we cannot avoid the conclusion that some number of current and past employees of GPL Inc., as well as other knowledgible people, together with customers, have been directing their efforts towards manipulation of the system.

 

Even more advanced, sophisticated and costly metering systems are being recommended to us:  we are being urged to meter anew completely, to install 175,000 sophisticated smart meters, throughout the system, which continually speak to others in the vicinity, and to a control centre.  These meters could be disconnected, and re-connected, from the centre.  The utility can know, continuously, locations from where power is being taken, that is not being reflected in the local grouping of meters.  For such a sophisticated system, think in terms of US$ 75 million.

GPL is not waiting for that big re-metering investment.

GPL Inc. recently completed one of its first estimates of total losses from each of its 39 main feeders.  The results are interesting – See Table entitled, “Loss Profile,” below.  All the reporters present seemed to have been in accord in keeping their distance from this table, apparently thinking it to be a ‘hot potato’.  ‘Hot potato’, or not, it is essential that this table be subjected to serious study.

The estimates of total losses range from the ‘high end’ of 60% across South Georgetown;  about 40% along the East Coast of Demerara, Sophia to Mahaica;  and North Wakenaam, about 37%.  South Georgetown is a large area, with a large number of customers and a large load.  No doubt, technical losses could be a little larger than elsewhere, and there would be sub-areas with losses greater than 60%, as well as lower than 60%.  There is an obvious need to split the feeder.  Indeed, all feeders in the Demerara area will be split when the Transmission Upgrade programme is completed.

At the ‘lower end’ of total losses, we are heartened by the estimates of 17.2% for Kitty/Campbelville;  18.4% for Ruimveldt Industrial Site and environs;  21% for Water Street;  and, most of all, 14.0% for downtown, from Robb Street  to Croal and Smyth Streets, between Alexander and Wellington Streets;  11.2% for Garden of Eden to Nandy Park;  11.8%, Edinburgh to Windsor Forest, and 9.8%, Vreed-en-Hoop to Windsor Forest.  These low figures need to be checked, in order to ensure that they are not erroneously low.

Although these first results are prone to a number of errors, they nonetheless provide significant information – information which would propel

further work in sharpening our estimates of losses in geographical units, and in focusing work to reduce technical losses and eliminate non-technical losses.

We have good areas and bad areas, good people and bad people – we have to celebrate the good, and pursue the bad in order to change their ways. To reduce electricity losses, we need significant material investment, and the most robust and perceptive equipment and systems;  and we need, no less, that the overwhelming majority of us citizens of Guyana, all employees of GPL Inc., and customers, accept and insist that everyone pays for what he/she uses. Our historical experiences, our struggles to end colonialism to increase earnings for workers, our disappointments with nationalizations, have all left too many of us cynical, non-trusting and believing that to get by, one must get things free, even if it is by dishonest means.  Too many of us fear that we cannot work our way honestly to greater prosperity – but we can.

As seen from our overall electricity-loss figures, a silent majority of us, four out of five, hold differently.  Those who steal electricity by one way or an other, should know that it is not free, that others pay more than they should;  those who steal electricity are burdening others who are paying.  It does not have to be so:  it is an unconscionable act.

GPL Inc. has a target of 19.5%, to which total losses should be reduced by 2018.  I want us to set our eyes on doing better:  equaling, or doing better than, Barbados – no more than 7%.  This is not unrealistic, for even now there are areas which are down to 11%.  We can be, materially, a third-world country, but attaining first-world levels in electricity losses!

Samuel A. A. Hinds,

Prime Minister and Minister Responsible for Electricity and Energy.

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