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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.

How many people does it take to change a light bulb?

Ashok Sarkar's picture
What is this? Read on to find out.

Riddle us this. In what country are...
  • 450 million ceiling fans already in use, 40 million new ones sold every year?
  • 350 million fluorescent tube lights already in use, 10 million new sold every year?
  • 30 million air conditioners already in use, three million new sold every year?
If you guessed India, you are right.

With a population of about 1.2 billion, India is one of the largest consumer markets in the world. So it’s no surprise that household appliances account for several gigawatts of electricity usage across the country. As India’s middle class grows and people move from villages to towns and cities, electricity usage is only increasing. In fact, hundreds of millions of electric appliances will be added over the next few decades. This poses a serious challenge for India’s energy security since there already are electricity supply shortages, which often lead to chronic outages and blackouts. The surge in household appliances is also a climate change challenge—India, the world’s third-largest CO2 emitter, is predicted to continue increasing its greenhouse gas emissions at least until 2030.

But India is turning this challenge into an opportunity by tapping into energy efficiency solutions, a relatively new area with already a few major successes. Considered globally as the “first fuel,” energy efficiency is rising to the forefront of India’s quest for innovative solutions to provide 24/7 reliable and affordable electricity for all.