Africa’s smart future

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Smart metering could resolve many of Africa’s energy challenges, including billing accuracy, energy efficiency, nontechnical losses and customer engagement. Eduard Stephenson reports.

One of Africa’s most pressing challenges is to provide access to energy and therefore economic growth, education and health. Solving the continent’s energy dilemma will depend on attracting investors to increase generation capacity and mobilizing consumers to use energy efficiently.

Smart metering could be the fundamental “missing link” to help the sector achieve these goals – although overcoming challenges surrounding their implementation will not be easy.

Boost investor confidence

Prepaid smart meters that guarantee customer payment could be the answer to Africa’s stressed power supply, while bridging the huge investment gap in the region’s electrical infrastructure. By ensuring revenue collection, the sector could attract global investors in new generation capacity and finance investment in other critical energy infrastructure.

Key potential benefits for power and utilities companies include:

  • Cash collection
  • Network optimization
  • Reduced energy consumption
  • Reduced nontechnical losses

Smart metering could also enable distributed generation and provide a means for small local generators (e.g., solar farms) to contribute power to the network and help provide a more reliable electricity supply to a growing customer base.

Unprecedented challenges

While the potential benefits of smart meters are significant, so are the challenges to their implementation in Africa. Many of these are common to smart metering transformations taking place all over the world:

  • What changes are required to the existing IT systems to integrate smart metering functionality?
  • What smart metering functionalities are needed, and what information needs to be provided to customers?
  • What is the best communication technology to collect, compare and act on the data?
  • How long will it take to mobilize, coordinate and implement all the different components of the smart metering solution?

But utilities in Africa also face smart metering challenges unique to their region. Apart from huge capital funding requirements, these challenges include:

  • Embryonic smart metering regulations
  • Endemic problems surrounding electricity theft and vandalism of equipment
  • Reluctance of some local municipalities to support smart metering projects
  • Inadequate technology to support communication between the smart meter and central system
  • Insufficient or unreliable existing data regarding consumers and existing infrastructure (e.g., location of substations)

Applying lessons learned

Despite the unique nature of Africa’s smart meter challenges, lessons can be drawn from other regions of the world. Our global smart metering network has the knowledge and experience to guide African utilities with a multidisciplinary approach that covers the whole change journey:

  • Defining the vision, strategy and business case using benchmarking data to build robust feasibility studies and business cases for smart metering
  • Designing and implementing target operating models for smart meter implementation
  • Building a positive customer experience and driving future revenue by helping clients communicate with customers, segment their customer base and improve back-office customer service processes
  • Defining the optimum supply chain for an efficient, reliable rollout, which may include providing independent advice to clients as they select, contract and manage supply chain partners
  • Driving technology and system changes; embedding smart characteristics in the organization to ensure a smooth transition to a smart metering environment
  • Operating and maintaining smart meter systems

Where to from here?

Overcoming significant difficulties will require utilities and municipalities to consider and understand the unique benefits and drivers that form the basis of the business case in Africa and manage stakeholders by showing them the benefits of smart metering.

As Africa moves toward its smart future, we are committed to supporting African energy companies and municipalities.