Franco“Where’s my meter for the African market?”

Exclusive interview with Franco Pucci, technical advisor for STS Association (Standard Transfer Specification) and panelist in the metering track at the upcoming African Utility Week (AUW) conference in Cape Town in May 2016. STS will also run a workshop on its improved KMC (Key Management Centre) features and have its annual AGM co-located during AUW.

Tell us more about the Standard Transfer Specification (STS) association and your activities in the utility industry

I am a private technical consultant to the STS Association, and an accredited tester for STS certification. I am also an owner and director of a company specialising in industrial control and automation. I am a member of IEC Technical Committee TC13, involved in the metering arena. As the STS association, we are responsible for the generation and maintenance of specifications in the prepayment industry for the IEC (the South African chapter). I have been involved in the prepayment industry since its inception in the late 1980s and was previously Technical Director of Conlog for 14 years.

Any specific project updates/success stories that you can share?

The interest in the STS specification in and beyond South Africa continues to increase as the industry pursues electrifying many millions of home. Our innovative edge has been the cornerstone of success of prepayment solutions in South Africa over the past 20 years, and, since its inception in this country, all over the world. Our working groups have been working on the requirements for the new KMC (Key Management Centre), which will be launched at AUW 2016. The new KMC has many advanced features, from high vending key security tools using state of art algorithms, to easier coding of security modules and it supporting key rollover. The new KMC has reduced risk when it comes to key validity period, which will assist in reducing the occurrence of ghost vendors.

What in your view are the main challenges currently to the energy industry in Africa?

The same challenges highlighted last year remain. The steep increase in power demands and years of underinvestment in the country’s power infrastructure is still out of balance.

The worldwide hype about Smart Meters and Smart Grid does not help the situation. Many of the utilities in Africa want to have smart metering without fully understanding the implications of a smart metering system – there are many levels of “Smart”, ranging from a simple meter with communications back to a central server, to a “1st World” smart meter. The costs are vastly different. The amount of data required to be managed is vastly different. The expertise required to manage this data is vastly different. The networks and communications infrastructure required to run these systems are certainly not of the standard we have in Africa!

In some cases, the cost of the meter and associated communications infrastructure cost more than the dwelling that the meter will be installed in. In my view, Africa has far bigger challenges facing it than the deployment of smart meters. Let us focus on stabilising our networks, both the grid and the communications network, before embarking on a seriously expensive exercise that will simply add fuel to the existing fire.

What is your vision for this industry?

There is still much potential for improvement in the prepayment industry in Africa, and the world for that matter. Over the past few years, the STS Association has seen its membership growing at an increasing rate – proof that the STS standard is gaining acceptance worldwide. I do not believe that, as many would say, the industry has reached saturation – sure, there are many more players in the marketplace now than there were a few years ago, but this is a good sign – a sign of growth rather than a sign of stagnation.

The prepayment industry must now focus its efforts into the generation of power from sustainable renewable energy sources – wind, solar, gas, micro generation. And the prepayment meters must transform accordingly to allow this. Africa, and indeed the rest of the “Third World” needs a smart meter suited to their needs and pockets.

You are part of the conference programme at this year’s African Utility Week in May, what will be your message?

The association will launch the new KMC and run a workshop to provide further information and insights on the improved KMC features. I will be chairing one of the sessions. In our pursuit to continue improving our service to the industry, we have also re-launched our corporate identity and stepped up our marketing initiatives, which will be unveiled at AUW 2016.

What are you most looking forward to at African Utility Week?

I’m looking forward to see if anyone has made strides towards solving our power challenges:

  • Do we have an affordable smart meter yet?
  • Have we improved the manufacture of grids?
  • Have all the smart meter pilots worked?
  • Progress in renewable energy
  • Is the industry effectively using all the data from smart meters?

Anything you would like to add?

The industry is aiming way too high for what we need right now. Fix the glaring problems first. Get us a meter for the African market and the rest of the world will follow.