Smart grid and net metering for grid-interactive distributed generation for the City of Ekurhuleni

Phiri, Alfred
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Increased frequency of electricity outages due to load-shedding coupled with escalating tariffs is forcing customers of municipal electricity utilities to venture into Distributed Generation (DG) technologies. These trends pose major infrastructure-reliability and revenue-erosion risks for municipal utilities which further impair quality of service to their customers, mainly as a result of dilapidated grid-infrastructure which contributes to escalation in distribution losses. With City of Ekurhuleni (CoE) as a case study, the research applied a qualitative approach to investigate the relevance of smart grid and net-metering systems as a response mechanism towards promotion of DG while also facilitating operational viability of the municipal utility. Primary data collected through interviews with electricity-sector experts as well secondary data from diverse sources were used to derive the key findings and conclusions of the study. Experiences from other countries such as Germany show that smart grids have also been pivotal towards harnessing renewable energy through DG and would therefore be critical towards addressing the prevailing distribution grid challenges within municipal authorities. In contrast, study findings indicate a steady increase in DG installations within CoE as commercial and industrial customers pursue their goal of energy security at lower costs. However, the utility has not effectively transformed the DG opportunity to cheaper electricity due to inhibitive regulatory and policy framework which also raises the risk of revenue erosion posed by DG. In particular, the overall findings support the working hypothesis which suggest that upgrading grid infrastructure and introduction of a responsive tariff-scheme is key to incentivise the adoption of grid-interactive DG within its jurisdiction. Given the qualitative focus of the study on smart grids and net metering, one of the key recommendations would be political mobilisation across all departments in CoE to provide input towards solving prevailing grid challenges and as well as evolving a responsive business model to facilitate transparent participation of small-scale generators through DG.
A research report submitted to the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Architecture in Sustainable and Energy Efficient Cities, 2022