Saturday night was memorable, and sadly for all the wrong reasons. The power went out across much of Pakistan, including Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Multan for several hours. The initial reason for the blackout seems to have been a drop in frequency at a power plant in Sindh, which caused a domino effect that effectively choked the country’s electricity grid.
This isn’t the first time that Pakistan has been hit by electricity cuts, but it can be the last. We have the technology to put a stop to power shutdowns. And we also have to think about what we all can do, as responsible citizens, to be more energy efficient.
Let me address first how technology can help on a national level. You may have heard of a smart grid, but what is this concept and how can it help Pakistan? Smart grids have long been discussed by the electrical industry as the future for the transmission and distribution of electricity. Smart grids connect to the internet and sensors throughout the network connect to one another and to the cloud.
The technology behind smart grids helps utility companies to reduce power surges and outages. One example of this is the self-healing grid we’ve developed with Stedin, one of the largest utilities in the Netherlands, for a self-healing grid solution in downtown Rotterdam. A blackout caused by a broken cable was resolved in 18 seconds thanks to the network automatically reconfiguring itself to resupply affected customers via another path. It could have taken hours to fix this fault if we were talking about a traditional grid.
In my opinion, smart grids are the very foundation of an energy revolution. The technology has many benefits, including improved reliability and efficiency, increased flexibility and resilience, and allow utilities to better integrate renewable energy sources. A fault can be immediately spotted and the energy supply rerouted. And they’re also future-proof, allowing the grid to integrate renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and hydro – both from large, utility-owned projects as well as prosumers, consumers, and businesses who want to sell excess electricity that they’re producing through rooftop paneling.
While smart grids are one answer to this challenge, the other is even simpler. We all have to be more energy efficient. Again, technology will play a crucial role here. Increasingly, we are being approached by industrial companies with a simple question – how can we make our infrastructure more energy efficient? One example of this is DG Khan Cement Company. Cement factories are energy intensive, and we worked with them to design a system that would use less power for their new Baluchistan plant at Hub. Energy shutdowns cost businesses money, and executives are looking for new ideas to ensure their operations aren’t impacted by power fluctuations or brownouts.
This is also where we should be considering the concept of smart building. Globally, over 30% of energy is used in our buildings, and many of the places that we live in and work at are energy inefficient, resulting in wasted power and bills that are far too high. Anyone can reduce how much energy they use in their home or office by up to 30%, simply by installing devices that measure, monitor, and analyze energy patterns. Connected home technologies such as WISER give home-users a view into their energy usage and provide recommendations on how they can reduce their consumption. Algorithms can communicate with your lighting, air conditioning, heating – pretty much any electrical device – and help residents reduce energy usage automatically. Home energy management systems put the power in the hands of residents, saving them money over the medium to long term.
We’re seeing an increased interest in smart home solutions, and we’re working with a number of leading real estate developers to make their projects future ready. The result is buildings that are greener, more sustainable, and cost less to run. And they’ll use less electricity, which will help to reduce the load on the national grid.
Access to energy is a basic fundamental right. And we need energy to power our growth and development. Each and every one of us needs to think about how we can live more sustainably, so that this resource is available to all. Let’s all play a role in making Pakistan an example of how we can turn a crisis into an opportunity to live better, greener lives.
[Editor’s note: The article discusses solutions to Pakistan’s electricity network problems provided by the author’s company, Schneider electric. They are viable solutions, but not the only ones.]