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Machine Learning Helps Power Down Electricity Theft in Jamaica

Anna Lerner's picture
  • In Jamaica, about a quarter of electricity produced is stolen or “lost” through non-paying customers and/or accounting errors. Manual detection has failed to make a difference in reducing this theft.
  • ESMAP’s technical assistance team implemented a machine learning model to help Jamaican utility JPS identify and decrease incidents of theft.
  • The machine learning model is based on an open source code, and is available for free to any utility.
About a quarter of the electricity produced by Jamaica’s energy utility, Jamaica Public Service (JPS) is stolen. When traditional, labor-intensive methods failed to produce lasting results, Jamaica tried a different approach: machine learning.
 
Globally, billions of dollars are lost every year due to electricity theft, wherein electricity is distributed to customers but is never paid for. In 2014 alone, Jamaica’s total power transmission and distribution system reported 27% of losses (due to technical and non-technical reasons), close to double the regional average. While the utility company absorbs a portion of the cost, it also passes some of that cost onto consumers. Both actors therefore have an incentive to want to change this.
 
To combat this, JPS would spend more than $10 million (USD) on anti-theft measures every year, only to see theft numbers temporarily dip before climbing back up again. The problem was, these measures relied primarily on human-intensive, manual detection, and customers stealing electricity used more and more sophisticated ways to go around regularly metered use. JPS employees would use their institutional knowledge of serial offenders and would spend hours poring over metering data to uncover irregular patterns in electricity usage to identify shady accounts. But it wasn’t enough to effectively quash incidents of theft.

Electrification planning made easier with new open source tool

Dimitris Mentis's picture


Evaluating the optimal way to expand electricity access across a country is difficult, especially in countries where energy related data is scarce and not centralized. Geospatial plans informing universal electricity access strategies and investments can easily take 18 to 24 months to complete.

A team working on a national electrification plan for Zambia last December did not have that much time.

They faced a six-month deadline to develop a plan, or they would miss out on a funding window, said Jenny Hasselsten, an energy specialist at the World Bank brought in to help with the electrification project in partnership with the government of Zambia.

Island communities in Ghana get electricity–at last!

Sunita Chikkatur Dubey's picture

When a mini-grid project came to Atigagome, a remote island in the middle of Ghana’s Lake Volta, the kerosene lamps people had been using became decorative pieces that were hung on the walls—a reminder that the island’s days of darkness were over. But the village not only gave up kerosene lamps and candles: it also attracted people like Seth Hormuku, who migrated to the island once a stable electricity supply was being provided to the local community.

Senegal pilots carbon finance to connect people to power

Kirtan Chandra Sahoo's picture
Mrs. Sokhna Ndaw shows us her fridge in Dioly village, based in the community of Diokoul Mbelbouck in the region of Kaffrine.

In March 2016, some colleagues and I visited several villages around Kaffrine in Senegal where private companies had been awarded licenses to provide electricity on a commercial basis. As we spoke to people, two things became very clear. The initial cost of connection to the grid was too high for many poor people, and the cost of electricity offered by the private companies (or “concessionaires”) were in several cases higher than what the government-owned utility offered in nearby areas.

Powering Sub-Saharan Africa – A fresh take on an old problem

Masami Kojima's picture
Man looking at electricity meters in Bamako, Mali 
Pic: Aarthi Sivaraman/World Bank

“If there is one thing that could really help my business, it would be reliable power supply,” said David, a small business owner in Lagos, on my recent trip to Nigeria.
“I agree. If only …,” echoed another.

And not without reason.

Africa lags every other region in the world when it comes to electricity access for its people. Only one in three Sub-Saharan Africans has access to electricity. That’s less than half of the rate of access in South Asia, the region with the second-lowest access rate. If we were to measure access to “reliable” electricity, then those numbers would be even more dismal.

Worryingly, the rate of access has been increasing at a mere 5 percentage points every decade, against population growth of 29 percent. If something is not done to dramatically change this trend, Africa will not see universal access to electricity in the 21st century. This is a seriously worrying prospect as the world races toward a 2030 deadline of universal access to electricity.

The target of achieving universal access by 2030 by the U.N.’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative and the billions of dollars committed by the U.S. government’s Power Africa plan underline the urgency of the situation. As a reminder, more than 1 billion people around the world still live without access to electricity and 600 million of those live in Africa.

So, are Africa’s utilities financially equipped to respond to this call?

Are you being served? The gap between effective and nominal access to infrastructure services

Sumila Gulyani's picture
 
 Sumila Gulyani / World Bank
Amina and her family in Dakar, Senegal have a metered private water tap in their yard, 
but they don’t use it. (Photo: Sumila Gulyani / World Bank)

Amina and her family had recently moved to their new house on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal. It was built by the government to relocate families from low-lying and flood-prone neighborhoods in the city. The house was small for her extended family of ten, but it was water that she worried about. I was puzzled. Usually people complain that water connection costs are too high, but she received that connection for free—the meter and tap were right there in her front yard.

Why did she worry?

Getting current: New tech giving more Africans access to electricity

Charles Feinstein's picture
Control room at a power station in Ghana. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst / World Bank)

Much work remains to be done to ensure reliable electricity access for Africa's citizens. A number of complications are making it difficult to achieve this UN Sustainable Development Goal. Yet access rates are expanding in many nations, and technology and design improvements offer opportunities to make rapid leaps forward. 

Of the 1.1 billion people on Earth without access to electricity, about half live in Africa. And while the World Bank’s Global Tracking Framework shows progress is being made to deliver electricity to those without, most of it is taking place in Asia. In Africa, it’s a different story.

Tackling the last mile of electricity access in Cote d’Ivoire

Meike van Ginneken's picture
 
A crew leader of CIE, a power company working to connect low-income homes to the electric grid in Cote d'Ivoire. Photo by World Bank

"I am happy with my new electricity connection—I pay less to the utility now than what I paid someone who sold me power before," said a woman I met recently in Anono, a low-income neighborhood of Cote d’Ivoire’s capital, Abidjan.

She proudly waved her new customer card at the utility worker. “My neighbor recharges his prepaid meter less often than I do,” she said. “I want as much power as he gets. I do not have many appliances, so give me a low-ampere connection like he has.”

Her neighbors echoed her sentiment.

I was impressed by how savvy first-time utility customers are about the tradeoff between the quality of service and cost of electricity access. Our visit to Anono followed a recent evaluation of World Bank Group Support to Electricity Access from 2000 to 2014. The report shows that over those 14 years, only 14 million grid and off-grid connections were delivered, while the Bank Group financed an estimated 60.2 gigawatts of generation capacity over the same period.

The report was a wake-up call and led us to think—how do we ensure that our large investment program in generation, transmission and distribution actually translates into electricity access for more Africans? Yes, off-grid solutions, such as those implemented through our successful Lighting Africa Program, work. But we also have to invest in the last mile, or even the last few yards of the electricity supply chain, to connect people to the grid. In many countries in Africa, the "entry ticket" is what holds the poor from getting a legal connection to grid power.