One of Thailand’s major utilities plans to use data from a smart grid and smart meters to track and predict electricity outages in the future.

“We want to use technology like smart grid to improve the distribution of power to the customer,” Veerasit Pothipaki, Inspector, ICT, Metropolitan Electricity Authority, told Energy Insider. “We have smart meters to do the measurement and collect the big data in a data lake”, where it will be analysed to understand reasons for outages, he said.

MEA supplies power to Bangkok and two other provinces, serving 3.8 million customers. It has been a leader in Southeast Asia in using digital to better serve customers. For instance, its customers have been able to pay bills on MEA’s smartphone app since 2012 – years before other utilities in the region offered the service.

In the future, it plans to use data on its customers to understand their behaviour and improve service delivery. For example, the utility wants to understand why some people pay bills late. This will allow it to tweak services to encourage people to settle bills before their due dates. “We have to learn the behaviours of the customer, like why they pay for electricity late,” Pothipaki said.

The utility plans to build a smart grid covering 9 square kilometres, costing 1.5 billion baht (US$48.5 million), according to The Bangkok Post. “Public hearings for the smart grid need to be held before procurement, but MEA plans to sign the contract this year,” the utility’s Governor Kirapat Jiamset, said.

A key step in this process will be to improve Thailand’s connectivity infrastructure through 5G technology, Pothipaki believes. “I have the budget, but the infrastructure is not under control of the MEA – it is under the control of the government.”

Thailand, like its neighbours in the region, is going through a deregulation of its electricity retail market. The country’s two state-owned utilities, including MEA, have so far held a monopoly, but the government plans to allow other businesses to supply power. “In the future, we will not have a monopoly, so we have to change. We have to reduce costs for MEA and have more revenue from non-core businesses,” Pothipaki concludes.