If you can’t measure it, business guru Peter Drucker is supposed to have said, you can’t manage it. Juan Zamphiropolos, head of business development at E.ON Czech, helps our grid customers in the Czech Republic measure and manage their energy consumption.
Let’s start with the smart meter itself. Your parents’ analogue electricity meter – the one with the disk that rotated at a mesmerizingly slow speed – could only do one thing: tell how much electricity had passed through it since it was installed. A smart meter, by contrast, is digital and measures consumption in real time. It can also send its measurements remotely to our analytics platform, which crunches the data to yield insights that we can provide to our customers: a breakdown of their consumption into active and stand-by, alerts about anomalies in their usage, and graphics showing how their energy consumption is evolving. We’re currently testing these capabilities with selected customers in our grid territory and plan to launch the product in 2021.
Our customers are mostly businesses and municipalities that have several premises connected to our grid. Our product gives them an overview of their overall electricity consumption and also the consumption of each individual building. Customers can use this information to compare consumption across their premises. This could help them identify machinery, devices, or appliances that are consuming more than they’re supposed to, thereby enabling customers to take steps to reduce consumption. In the case of devices that are operated infrequently, for example, it might make sense to power them down completely between uses.
Among businesses and municipalities, it so far mostly attracts those that are more environmentally oriented. But we think smart meters will catch on. It’s like E-Mobility: a first-mover on the block has to buy an electric car before the neighbours ask themselves whether they might want to go electric too. Municipalities want to be sustainable cities, and that means monitoring their energy consumption and identifying ways to reduce it. We have cooperative arrangements with a number of municipalities in the Czech Republic. One, for example, is using our online tool to monitor energy usage in all of its public buildings and street lighting. The granularity of the data enables the city to take specific actions to reduce consumption, like switching to LED light fixtures or installing heat pumps.
Another application is for energy communities – an apartment building or several households that receive their energy from the same low-carbon source, like solar panels on one or more of the buildings. The idea is to share energy and use it as a community. Analytics show who is consuming when and how much and maps this against how much energy is being produced. This information is essential for linking actors together and creating a functioning community. For example, a customer doesn’t have to own a roof or make a big up-front investment in order to support solar energy. Energy communities are part of the emerging sharing economy, and I think they have huge potential.
Different industries evolve at different rates. Think about how much telecommunications changed be-tween 1960 and 2010: from copper-wire landlines to billions of smart phones. Electricity grids, by contrast, changed relatively little. But now, thanks to digital technology, they’re evolving dynamically. In rural areas of the Czech Republic, electricity grids may not yet be the internet of energy. But the trend is clearly in that direction. And even the oldest of the old hands at our distribution system operator (DSO), E.ON Distribuce, realise that sustainability is the new normal.
One of the most exciting projects I’m currently involved in aims to connect the grids of two E.ON DSOs, Bayernwerk in southeast Germany and E.ON Distribuce in the southwest part of Czech Republic. Currently, the principal cross-border connections between the two countries are high-voltage transmission lines. Our project aims to connect the two countries’ grids primarily at intermediate voltage. It would also involve upgrading equipment, deploying smart technology, and improving the DSOs’ data-sharing capabilities. Doing this will increase reliability, reduce line losses, make both systems smarter, and enhance their ability to integrate renewables. In March 2021 we’re submitting it as a project of common interest (PCI), a category of project that supports the interconnectivity of Europe’s energy system and thus qualifies for EU funding. We’re already conducting a similar PCI linking E.ON Distribuce in the Czech Republic and ZSD in Slovakia, so we have a lot of experience to draw on.
I try to take small steps. Many have to do with the prefix “re-“: reuse, repair, recycle, repurpose. We’re brought up in a consumerist, throwaway society. But repairing an item consumes far fewer resources than buying a new one, and reusing an item consumes none at all. So before I throw something out I consider whether it could be repaired or put to another use. If not, I try to find a new owner for it. After all, something that has become useless for me may be very useful for someone else.
Juan Zamphiropolos was born in Asuncion, Paraguay, in 1986. He has a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Czech Technical University in Prague and an MBA degree from the Technical University of Berlin. Since joining E.ON Czech as a project manager in 2013 he has focussed primarily on smart metering, data analytics, and telecommunications. In January 2020 Juan became head of business development at E.ON Czech. He oversees product development, grant management, and public affairs. In his free time Juan enjoys running and biking. He lives in Prague.