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Ed’s Note: All things smart, big and small

Is your grid smart, and can it ‘talk’ to the market in which it operates? For African utilities, the answer is likely that the grid can barely support demand. It isn’t ready for anything ‘smart’, let alone the encroaching forces of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 2019/07/10

I want to offer a different response. Africa’s grid networks have made progress – not on the grand scale we’d like, but progress nonetheless – and are in need and capable of a smart upgrade.

In our latest edition of ESI Africa, which will be available in digital format at the end of this month, we explore how utilities and governments can take advantage of digital developments and examine new ways to enable processes and systems, especially given the energy revolution underway.

This is ESI Africa’s first review on digitalisation, and we sought out the global and local smart themes taking root. Our selection, from the sheer numbers of innovations transcending and reimagining our world, examines four areas: digital skills, 5G, water technology, and automation.

Our next webinar addresses how mining companies can reduce their reliance on grid-connected power. Book your seat for Gridlocked taking place on 18 July.

In terms of automation, herein lie so many opportunities for the implementation of smart grid features. Imagine artificial intelligence combined with new-generation sensors to create a new kind of automation and utilities using digital twins to operate on an optimal level.

Futuristic? Not at all. Digital twins are already in use and adding AI and IoT will enable a swifter, more responsive type of automation than the current rigid programming.

However, relying solely on smart solutions and tools without enabling the utility workforce will come at a high cost.

In an IFC report, Digital Skills in Sub-Saharan Africa: Spotlight on Ghana – which highlights the influence of technology and automation on the future of work – it is anticipated that about 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in a job that doesn’t yet exist.

I find the prospect of this extremely exciting! The importance of this statement is around how your business is future-proofing itself through your selection and training of employees for this new workforce.

The pace at which 4IR innovation breakthroughs are occurring is unprecedented and our energy markets must take heed.

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Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
Nicolette is the Editor of ESI Africa print journal, ESI-Africa.com and the annual African Power & Energy Elites. She is passionate about placing African countries on the international stage and is driven by the motto "The only way to predict the future is to create it". Join her in creating a sustainable future through articles and multimedia content.