HomeFeatures/AnalysisExclusive interview with Stephen Apps, Senior Manager – Smart Grid SME, Accenture

Exclusive interview with Stephen Apps, Senior Manager – Smart Grid SME, Accenture

“The Internet of Things is the beginning of creating Smart Cities and the Smart Environment”Stephen

Exclusive interview with Stephen Apps, Senior Manager – Smart Grid SME, Accenture South Africa, who will address the T&D and Smart Grids session at the African Utility Week conference on The Internet of Things & Smart Grids”.

1. Can we start with some background of your work in Smart Grids?
I started my career as a Telecommunications Technician, obtaining great experience of the challenges associated with installing and maintaining telecommunications networks. From this I graduated as an engineer and worked extensively in the UK on narrow band digital radio communications systems, command and control systems and end applications in real time for the military and emergency services.

When I moved to South Africa, I found that this experience could be transferred into the utilities industry with a need for real-time Smart Grid solutions. I spent several years on ground breaking research projects determining the best approaches for a centrally controlled cost effective real time solution could be developed to manage demand and distributed generation but met the unique and challenging requirements for South Africa.

2. How can the internet of things help address electricity supply challenges?
There is a need to have tighter control, management and visibility of the Transmission and Distribution networks. The environment is complex and varied, with disparate solutions. A shift to a more open machine-to-machine approach (standards) reduces many of the existing restraints. All field devices become a node in the overall network and can be accessed and control as situations dictate

It allows for a modular approach so for example, demand response devices can be rolled out ahead of smart metering. It allows for future proofing and the ability to flexibly add different nodes on to the network with minimal up front work and cheaper cost

It becomes the basis for the Smart City and Smart Environment, but moves away from complex proprietary solutions that are developed for a single purpose.

This in the short term, a selection of alternate end devices can be taken depending on the difference environments and be integrated into the same infrastructure providing a holistic view of network status and performance.

3. Can you share examples of the successful implementation of this?
The Internet of things is still in its early days as far as the electricity grid goes. Messaging and data integration shall be a hurdle, with much of the chosen protocols requiring a review.

However, in 2008 in conjunction with Eskom, a 20000 device trial was rolled out in Johannesburg to test these theories. This research was very successful and clearly demonstrated the increased performance and response that could be achieved taking this approach.

  • Real time load limiting
  • 5 min view at national control of all residences
  • Extendable to any end node
  • Fast rollout
  • Almost 100% reliable comms
  • Extensive customer information and tools
  • Extremely secure
  • Extensive GIS information and thus real time fault identification

This project never moved out of research and thus the need for more commercialized solutions based on the lessons learnt from this initiative

4. The internet of things has great potential to change the way we live – how big a threat could breakdown in security be in implementing this?
The security threats exposed by the IOT are significant. If this is not considered and addressed at initial specification, then the risks outweigh the benefits.


Having worked much of my career on UK restricted and secret networks, I have a good understanding of the challenges and threats. There for any solution I would work on would need to meet the rigorous standards I expect whilst still maintaining ease of use.

Nistir7628 and Fips200 are excellent documents to guide in the securing of the solutions, but these measures need to be included at the beginning rather than an overlay applied to the solution on completion.


Many threats are physically and personnel related. As tight as the technology is and the measures put in place, the solutions can only ever be as safe as the employee created environment. Thus physical security from shall need to be addressed and ensured. (For example, the sharing of passwords to unauthorized personnel)


5. What is your vision for the internet of things in the energy sphere?
The Internet of things is the beginning of creating Smart Cities and the Smart Environment. The ability to access vast quantities of information and tie them together to get truly meaningful information.


For example, knowledge of local residential PV generation coupled with small localized weather stations can provide an almost real time understanding to the system operator to the potential dramatic changes in demand that would be cause by cloud cover, allowing for proactive methods for balancing the grid


6. What will be your message at African Utility Week?
I intend to describe the potential benefits of IOT and how it can embrace many of the innovative and proven solutions currently being employed to address the challenges of the electrical grid.


This approach enhances what has come before, enabling a richer and more extendable approach enabling an effective way to protecting the country’s electricity usage and taking South Africa forward


All the work that I present, has been conceived, developed and manufactured in South Africa, demonstrating that this country had the skills, capabilities and resources to determine direction and create the solutions for an innovative future.


Accenture is a platinum sponsor at the African Utility Week conference and exhibition.