Font Size

- Aa +

Thu 24 Jun 2010 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Power player

As a key industry figure who has helped shape the future of the European energy sector, Dr. Maher Chebbo, EMEA vice president of utilities & communication industries at SAP, has a thing or two to say about smart grids in the GCC.

Power player
Power player
Chebbo believes that grids will increasingly be managed via the internet.
Power player
European Union member states are aiming to incraese the use of renewables.

As a key industry figure who has helped shape the future of the European energy sector, Dr. Maher Chebbo, EMEA vice president of utilities & communication industries at SAP, has a thing or two to say about smart grids in the GCC.

To call Maher Chebbo an expert on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the power industry is somewhat of an understatement. When the European Union decided to modernise the region's power grid, he was appointed as one of the members of the European Technology Platform (ETP) responsible for paving the way for a  smart grid in Europe. Chebbo is thus responsible for selling SAP's ICT products to suppliers and transmission companies, as well as helping to shape the environment in which these products will be used.

Chebbo is proud of his work for the EU, where he is also active on a number of other bodies, and likes to talk about the ETP charged with coming up with a blueprint for a European smart grid. "This platform defined a vision, based on the question: Why do we need to do the smart grid? Its simple. We need to achieve the target decided by the European member states," says Chebbo. The EU has set the bar high. It aims to reduce C02 emissions by 20 percent by 2020, as well as increase the use of renewable energy to 20 percent of overall production, and reduce energy consumption by 20 percent. Of those three targets, the first two are mandatory.

The Union has put its money where its mouth is. At the beginning of this month, an initiative was launched to execute more than 20 projects worth two billion Euros proposed by distribution and transmissions companies.

With a market share of 65 percent for ITC and CRM applications in the utilities sector, SAP is well equipped to contribute to the vision of the smart grid, believes Chebbo. The company has provided software to around 1,500 utilties worldwide, and has been active in the field since its inception in 1972.

Since the liberalisation of the European energy market in 2007, the company is confronted with a changed sector. Whereas SAP would previously supply vertically integrated energy giants who encompassed everything from power generation to transmission and distribution, it now caters to companies with no direct ties to each other.
The changes to the market in Europe did not pose a huge challenge to the company, as its products were structured in a way that made it easy to adapt. Rather than having to develop  new software, SAP was able to unbundle its programmes in much the same way was the EU had unbundled the market. "We are offering unbundled solutions in Europe, and the full package for vertically integrated companies like in the US," says Chebbo.

He explains how the company responded to the EU ruling: "We developed two things. One was a solution for unbundling - the intercompany data exchange. That solution enables the communication between the distributor and the retailer. The other was energy data management. This is for the collection of consumption data on meters and helps to bill customers. We also made more developments around balancing, in calculating how much the supplier has to pay for the usage of the network to the distributor."

Competitive spirit

Whereas in Europe the development of smart grid is driven by the desire to reduce energy consumption, decision-makers in the Middle East are motivated by different ambitions. "In Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Qatar, each of these utilities want to show that they are better than the others. They want these projects to be a showcase," says Chebbo.

Company representatives coming to do business in the region are best advised to tread carefully. "If you come to them and make the mistake to compare them with another one, they will not like it. Each one believes they are the best, and they want to be the best."

Nothing motivates like competition, of course, and progress is evident in the GCC. SAP, for one, are not complaining. "In the last two years we have had a lot of requests for proposals to built CRM systems, and we've seen a lot of smart metering bids. I would say the region is not far away from the projects we see in Western Europe, for instance."

Dubai's Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) is amongst SAP's clients, and are showing considerable interest in upgrading their networks. "I would say that Dubai is really pushing, DEWA wants to implement smart metering and other project later and they really keen to invest in this kind of software," says Chebbo.
DEWA has already implemented software to manage their billing and CRM services, and are now in the process of applying SAP to their network services provider, according to Chebbo. Towards the end of the year, the utility will adopt smart metering. "It is important whether the management of a company is smart enough or not. DEWA has a smart management in place, who look outside, and come and ask questions," says Chebbo.

Good management is by no means guaranteed, however, and Chebbo identifies mismanagement as one of the obstacles in the way of modernising grids. "The other problem we have is a lack of understanding between the management and the workforce doing the project. There is a kind of disconnect sometimes between the management and the experts who know the network and the IT." This can be exacerbated if the man at the top fails to consult those around him. "Sometimes the board of a company is not acting like a board but you have the CEO and the rest of the world, and everything depends on the agenda of the CEO."

Unfortunately, the lack of common decision making is nothing unusual in the region. Despite working with the GCCIA, the body responsible for the GCC Interconnection Grid, Chebbo believes that cooperation between GCC countries leaves to be desired. He refers to something that former US vice president and environmental guru Al Gore recently said at an SAP event: "If you want to go first, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go with others." It is a message decision makers in the GCC would do well to take on board. "Each one is trying to go alone. The GCC grid is the exception, I think they can cooperate much more in all the other areas. They have to learn how to cooperate much more like the Europeans are doing with their smart grids."

Apart from the obvious comparison to the European Union, the efforts of other countries could serve as an example to GCC governments. China and India, for example, who are keen to expand the reach of the electricity network, have developed programmes both at a federal and a state level. "If they want to implement a full smart grid, they need a programme at the GCC level which goes down into the different countries, with a smart grid platform where you have the suppliers and the network companies and the regulators all coming together to decide how to implement the smart grid network of the future," argues Chebbo.

Whatever the pace of development or the motivation for adopting smart grids, Chebbo has a very clear vision of the future of grids. "The customers and the plants, renewables and the central production of power, all that will be connected like you have internet today that is connecting everybody, that will be the case in every region and every country. There will be a shift from just electricity management to information management. There will be much more data on the network, more electronics and ICT in the networks. We believe that internet will be much more important in the future and will be the network that will have all these things communicate well together every time." It is a fair bet that Chebbo will be there to help put this vision into place.