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Power Theft Driving Demand for Smart Meters at Brazil Utilities

March 08, 2012


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Electricity theft is rampant across much of Latin America, so much so that statisticians have devised a formula that uses the purloined wattage to measure the size of a country’s informal economy. In some parts of Brazil, power losses reach as high as 20 percent.

To combat the problem and avoid violent encounters, utilities are turning to smart meters. The devices, which cost about $150 to $400 each, including hardware, communications software and installation, let power companies monitor customers’ usage remotely and in real time.

The meters can detect unusually heavy demand, which may signal an illegal hookup. They can also be used to shut off service to households and businesses that don’t pay their bills. The devices remove the human factor from the equation, so customers can no longer collude with dishonest meter readers to cheat the power company.

Smart meters “are the perfect solution,” said Fabio de Oliveira Toledo, chief technology officer for the distribution unit of Light SA (LIGT3), a Rio de Janeiro-based utility (and Elster customer) that has installed more than 150,000 of them. “They save you money, they’re easy to install, and they require little maintenance.”