- A new initiative from four U.S. universities seeks to use data science and analytics to better predict and analyze electricity demand in emerging economies in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The Electricity Growth and Use in Developing Economics (e-GUIDE) Initiative is supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
- The e-GUIDE tools are designed to help local utilities and governments build right-sized grids and power sources and ensure that all people have access to reliable electricity. The tools are based on billing and consumption data from utilities and small providers, as well as geospatial data from satellites.
- Four universities split a $3.8 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation: the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon University and the Colorado School of Mines.
The United Nations projects that more than two-thirds of people will live in urban areas by 2050, with significant growth in Africa and Asia. With developing regions increasingly urbanizing, it's crucial to plan for sufficient electricity, especially with an estimated two billion people facing "energy poverty" with insufficient access to reliable electricity.
Grids and power supplies must be set up to accommodate the millions of users concentrated in one place, and withstand surges that can occur during heat waves or other extreme weather events. Reliable data, however, is hard to come by in developing areas, which means that governments and private companies may end up either building systems that are too small, or overspend on a system that's too large.
"Being able to better plan how consumption is going to look, especially for a growing population, allows us to right-size our infrastructure," Jay Taneja, the project lead and an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMass Amherst, told Smart Cities Dive. "We're really trying to use local data to help plan local systems."
Even in developed countries, electricity data isn't always easily available, Taneja said. And as consumers integrate more energy efficient appliances or change their use patterns, even data that's a decade old may not reflect future demand. The e-GUIDE tools are designed to be updated to reflect changing use patterns, although Taneja said the first step is "understanding value in data that isn’t being harvested yet."
The new tool is also creating a more reliable way to measure electricity outages, using satellite data to detect power failures. Even in the U.S., utilities currently self-report outages, which can be measured differently (some use customer phone calls to track outages, others use smart meters or sensors), leaving the government and researchers without consistent data. More reliable information can help not only developing regions, but also utilities in the developed world to understand how and when their systems fail.