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What are the limits to reducing power grid loss?

Multidisciplinary investigation uncovers contract issues for African grid operator


The power grid for the African metropolis in this study contains about 2,000 km of MV cables and 4,700 substations. The current infrastructure will, however, most likely not enable the grid operator to limit its net losses to 6 percent under a short term, given the ever-increasing power demand.

Can grid losses be limited to 6 percent for a local grid that experiences proportionally increasing loads? That was the challenge Laborelec accepted from the grid operator of a rapidly expanding African metropolis. The limitation of grid losses is necessary in order to extend the grid operators management contract until 2014.

Covering multiple domains of expertise

The grid operator is a GDF SUEZ subsidiary in charge of the management contract for the provision of electricity, water, and sanitation services for an African metropolis. In order to improve the electrical efficiency of its medium- (MV) and low-voltage (LV) power grid, the operator contacted Laborelec. This choice was based on the company’s positive experience with Laborelec in a variety of domains, including the development of technical specifications for MV cables and the assessment of cable manufacturers.

Improving the electrical efficiency of MV and LV networks

Using its electrical expertise, knowledge of international best practices, and technical data from the grid operator, our electrical experts were able to compile a list of opportunities for improvement. From this list, Laborelec and the various departments at the grid operator selected the most promising options.

Advice to renegotiate contract conditions

Laborelec, however, immediately pointed out that the selected actions would most likely not be sufficient to limit the net losses to 6 percent before the deadline. As the economy of the African country is rapidly expanding, the public grid’s load, and, thus, the power losses, will continue to increase. Consequently, it is very difficult to meet the new contractual conditions given the current grid infrastructure. Laborelec therefore advised the grid operator to renegotiate the new contract conditions.

Benchmarking against similar metropolitan power grids

Subsequent to our advice, the grid operator asked Laborelec to benchmark the performance of its local power grid against that of similar metropolitan grids. The comparison will focus on grid efficiency, an evaluation of the technical and non-technical causes of efficiency losses, and a calculation of the financial repercussions of these losses. The project is still ongoing and will help the grid operator build its case for its national government.

Can you limit the efficiency—and thus financial—losses of your power grid?

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