Exclusive interview with Mlungisi Mkhwanazi, Director of the Africa Utilities Technology Council (AUTC), a returning industry partner of African Utility Week in Cape Town in May. The AUTC will also present a strategic conference co-located to the event.

AUTC INTERVIEW: “Our [conference] tracks in May will concentrate on the technology application in the water sector, in terms of making every drop count whilst using technology to preserve and monitor any leakage points.”

Welcome back to African Utility Week as a co-located event and as an association partner. Let’s start with some background on the AUTC and the goals of the organisation.

Great to be back in the buzz of utilities in Africa, the atmosphere is electrifying.

AUTC as the African chapter of the Utility Technology Council was founded in December 2015 by a number of utilities and municipalities. The main objective is to bring together like minded organisations to collaborate on various platforms in the technology applied within the utilities. These platforms include Spectrum, OT/IT Conversion or migration, cyber security, just to name a few. We also create a learning environment where we bring together utilities and OEMs to provide working solutions to our current technological challenges.

Since last year the AUTC has a much bigger role at AUW, including a co-located conference, and contributions to the metering, water and T&D conference tracks. Can you give us more information about what delegates can expect in May?   

These are interesting times indeed as we see ourselves growing as a brand (association partner) and delivering on our set mandate.

Allow me to start with the most critical topic for not only SA but Africa as a whole; the access to and availability of the scarce resource, water. A lot is being done in SA to address this as three of the nine provinces are tethering on water shortage, with the city of Cape Town, recently pegging the Day Zero to 11 May 2018. Water has become a necessity for the communities around SA, shortage of clean water therefore remains a challenge to our thriving communities. In other provinces like the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal, the scarcity of water has had dire impact on the tourism which indirectly affects the livelihood of their communities. Agriculture is facing closure of some of the county’s farms due to the drought being experienced, this could lead to high prices due to the imported staple foods thus affecting the poorer amongst us.

T&D remains one of the leading topics in AUW, as we see their infrastructure not only housing the telecommunications highway through optical ground wire (OPGW), but also assisting in spreading the reach to every town in various countries. It then enables us to start talking about SMART metering and SMART cities.

Our conference tracks in May will concentrate on the technology application in the water sector, in terms of making every drop count, whilst using technology to preserve and monitor any leakage points. The phenomenon of technological migration strategies being adopted by a number of utilities has prompted us to look at the reasons “why strategies fail?”. This is borne out by the fact that, a utility can have state of the art technology but if funding and implementation is not managed accordingly, the project is dead in the water.

Why is it important for utility, telecoms and ICT to be together at a utility event?

We have come to realise that the model that works best for any utility, is to have telecoms operated in-house. Telecoms then offers carrier services to the OT and IT departments. The reason they need to be together is so that the silos approach may be dealt away with as these three departments are intertwined, not only in the services area but from the funding perspective as well. There are a lot of synergies that can be achieved if the three departments mentioned above can collaborate from a strategic level. Integration of the various systems could lead to a smoother transition from legacy technology to a more packet based technology.

Do you think that the merger of utilities, ICT and telecoms is inevitable? What is your vision?

Absolutely, the engineers among us need to fine tune the priorities to place precedence where it is needed. For an example, OT places availability, integrity and confidentiality (in this order) high on their list whilst IT has the order in reverse, confidentiality, integrity and availability. Our vision is to magnify the interconnectedness of the three departments to foster integration at every level.

What are the main challenges in the utility sector on the continent in your view?

The rollout of renewables is changing the face of traditional energy-mix businesses. Utilities are asking how they can embrace renewables and remain sustainable with new business models and favourable revenue streams, which allow their infrastructure and systems investments to be maximised. Although the cost of renewable project has been decreasing over the last five years, the funding remains an issue due to geo-political tensions in some areas of our continent.

What will be AUTC’s main message at African Utility Week?

Collaborative engagements and knowledge sharing between utilities through Work Groups, OEMs workshop sessions and the broader Global Advisory Councils. It is imperative that we learn from utilities across the world, thus cross pollinate our experiences and avoid sink holes from a technological angle.

How important is African Utility Week for the utility sector? 

AUW represents a concentration of thought leaders as well as great minds in the utility space. A vast area of the display floor is dedicated to showcasing the new and latest technologies that can assist utilities in achieving their respective technological deployment objectives. It is also a place where like-minded leaders meet to share experiences and possible collaborations. The main sponsor has been doing well in bringing these utilities together for the sake of Africa’s progress. Improvement of access to clean water and electricity outages due to load shedding remains the leading motivation for the Africa to meet in this fashion.

AUTC is a long-standing association partner to ESI Africa and regular contributor. Find their latest article in Issue 1 2018 on page 45 (Utility automation and control – it’s not your
daddy’s SCADA)

African Utility Week