5 Reasons Why Developing Countries Need Smart Grids, Too


While much of the attention in the smart grid industry has been focused on the U.S. market — gotta take advantage of that close to $4 billion in smart grid stimulus funds — developing countries like India, China and Brazil are also looking to make their power grids smarter. For these countries, some of which are experiencing rapid economic growth (translates to more homes and buildings getting connected to the grid) there are some similar, and some very different, reasons to make the grid smarter compared to the developed world.

China is predicted to be one of the hottest smart grid markets in the coming years given its energy needs are expected to double in 10 years, and the country’s dominant power distribution company, State Grid Corp., has a goal of building out a smart grid by 2020. India might not have the same momentum, or government funds in the pipeline as China, but Indian utilities are still looking at pilot projects and the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM) is working on a smart grid pilot project. According to research from the Bangalore-based nonprofit Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), these are five reasons why developing countries need, and want, smart grids.

Stopping Power Theft: Not such a problem in developed countries, but in India with little oversight of the grid and higher poverty rates, power theft is quite common. Rahul Tongia writes in his white paper for CSTEP that just basic grid accounting — knowing where the power is flowing when — will be a “strong driver” to cut down theft. (Theft of diesel to power off-grid cell phone stations in rural areas of developing countries is quite common, too, see GigaOM Pro’s How Mobile Networks Can Cut Carbon, subscription required).

Higher Quality/Reliability of Power, Fewer Blackouts: If homes in developing countries are connected to the grid, often times the connection is poor, and users can only access electricity during certain times of the day. Grid load balancing and distribution automation services,can help keep power flowing more continuously and alert utilities to blackouts (see New Opportunities In the Smart Grid, GigaOM Pro). Utilities in the U.S. are also making grids smarter to be able to react much more quickly to blackouts.

Leapfrog to Smart Grid: In many developing countries, power grids have not been fully built out — in Tanzania 80 percent of the population lives within 5 kilometers of a transmission line but only 10 percent has access to electricity. But smart grid technology can “represent an opportunity for developing countries to leapfrog in the growth of their power sector to more manageable, reliable, and scalable designs,” writes Tongia. Basically skip the older systems, and start with the newer IT-based ones. Many have speculated that developing countries could do the same thing with renewable power.

Growth Justifies the Cost: Some developing nations like China, which will double its energy needs in a decade, are growing at such a rapid pace that the addition of smart grid technologies can be justified to utilities by the growth of power consumers. The hardest part for utilities in the U.S. is making the economics of smart grids work, but in China the addition of many new customers can help with the return on investment.

Renewable Power Needs Smart Grid: If developing countries are more successful in adding distributed clean power than developed countries, utilities will need a smart grid to manage problems caused by intermittency (the sun and wind only happen during certain times of the day) and distributed power. Tongia writes that distributed clean power will “fundamentally change the design of the grid, beyond any policy or regulatory changes distributed end-user generation entails.”

Related research on GigaOM Pro, subscription required: New Opportunities in the Smart Grid

Image courtesy of gever tulley’s photostream Flickr Creative Commons.


emily laing

this web site was so helpfull, wow. i love it!!!!!


Katie, where did you get this stuff? It’s fascinating. Thanks to James Eades as well for the video link. Isn’t it interesting how developing countries have had an advantage over more developed countries, not only with regard to such relatively new technologies as cell phones and broadband networks, but now with smarter power grids as well. In each case, the developing countries did not have to overcome the baggage of an antiquated infrastructure. Better late than never takes on a whole new meaning :-) Keep up the good work.

James Eades


Great article, but I wanted to share with you and your readers what else is happening out on the ‘Smart Grid’ road, and how not only can this value added samrt grid platform reduce GHG it can also save lives and prevent global disasters.

One of the key issues with; and not just developing countries is justifying their smart grid investments, from tens of millions to billions to one energy supplier just to backhaul meter data and to help people manage thier usage.

Here in Australia, we have several problems we need to come to grips with, the main one being the age of our distribution network and the faulting of those assets that can and do cause bushfire ignitions.

Last year alone one fire labled as Black Saturday killied 193 people, and scortched hundreds of thousands hectars of bush land, equivelant to an entire years GHG from the entire country, and one power company is being blamed for causing 123 deaths.

What Telepathx and Australian company has done was to expand the capabilities of the smart grid and smart meters infrastructure to provide real benefits to government, individuals and entire communities; it`s all about leveraging this capacity to its fullest.

What is a real concern, specifically to coop, state and federally owned utilities is getting the biggest bang for thier dollar, and this comes in the form of being able to detect bushfire ignitions at their source, manitor and map floods, detect polutants, auto accidents and transport assets simultainiously.

A proof of concept video (funded by SP-Ausnet) is available for viewing at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzB6Nz5FFIQ

This is part of our outer urban and rural program in Victoria; The Essential & Emergency Services Sensory Network (EESSN) monitoring 100,000 kilometers of roadway and energy infrastructure, where 47% of all bushfire ignition occur.

The sensing platform is currently being ported into smart meters that will aid and benefit entire communities the day they are installed.

Cheers James

Chandrapal (Smart Mind)

Great job Katie, I am focusing on Smart Grid Development in India at my blog http://www.smartgrid-for-india.blogspot.com/ and have outlined the same factors at my earlier blog. India is loosing almost 50% of the electricity it produce due to transmission and non-technical factors like theft (http://smartgrid-for-india.blogspot.com/2009/08/indian-energy-scenario.html). Developing country and particular India needs to quickly adopt Smart Grid and the government should develop policy group which draft the policy and standards similar to US and other developed countries.


A smart grid, yes – but it is also a much needed smart billing system.

For as long as I have been alive, electricity has been billed on the basis of quantity. But as we heard from Andy Tang of PG&E, and is posted in our recent review of next generation smart grid applications, there are 15 days in California each year where electricity supply is a real challenge, and the costs to the utility of the top Kwh delivered are much higher than regular days.


The time has come for consumers to be accountable for both the quantity of electricity they use, and for the generation costs of the electricity they use.

We are all familiar with night time cell phone minutes costing less than peak time cell phone minutes. It works, we are used to the billing model, and we are 100% in charge of when we talk on a cell phone.

It is not quite as simple for electricity, after all you cannot really turn off the fridge in “peak load” times. But you can moderate your discressionary needs.

The smart grid is an essential component of introducing a cost of electricity element to energy billing. Yes you will still be able to run your air conditioner at fridge like settings on the hottest days, but soon you will pay the appropriate costs of doing this.

Today, electricity price averaging means that the energy conscientious are subsiding the energy “do not care” – this is not right.

Roll on the smart grid please, it will be a shock for some to be financially accountable for the quantity of electricity, and the costs of WHEN it is used – but the sooner the better.

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