Municipalities in South Africa are increasingly considering the option to replace their analogue meters with smart ‘next generation’ meters, which deliver real-time or periodic interval metering data. In theory, smart meters are intended to ready the utilities for the business of tomorrow, including the adoption of distributed generation. Let’s explore this notion.

A smart metering system enables numerous benefits including better utility control and monitoring of its customers’ meters remotely, load limiting, Notified Maximum Demand (NMD) monitoring, Bi-directional metering (solar PV), and even mock billing.

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Issue 3-2019.
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In spite of these advantages, most smart meter rollouts within South Africa have garnered bad press with the meters proving to be ‘not really’ smart. This perception is attributed to issues such as the capability of some smart meter designs, strength of the associated ICT and communication backbone, customer management, organisational design, complicity of contractors (missing meters, under metering, CT errors), and testing/ quality assurance. Ntiyiso’s municipal revenue maturity model looks into aspects of revenue coverage, conversion, administration, analytics, and customer centricity to evaluate municipalities. Based on the analysis, they were classified into:

1. Lagging municipalities: Beggars

 2. Emerging municipalities: Snoozers

3. Developing municipalities: Hustlers

4. Optimising municipalities: Darlings

5. Innovating municipalities: Super Heroes

The majority of South African utilities fall under Hustlers, in terms of their stable and repetitive revenue collection approach, with decent revenue sources but poor revenue conversion rates. Unaccounted leakages add to poor revenue conversion rate woes, and the introduction of smart meters has in most instances accelerated the leakages due to the ‘not so smart’ backend systems.

Getting a municipality accomplished in terms of a properly functioning smart metering system, therefore, requires addressing the aforementioned infrastructure and organisational issues. This will require large sums of capital and time. While Ntiyiso is adept at assisting the municipality to ready itself and guiding it through the smart meter journey, it is also imperative that an appropriate transitioning mechanism is in place. This system will ensure the large swathes of data generated within the metering system are not lost and are appropriately analysed (while waiting for the associated infrastructure for smart metering systems to reach the required maturity).

A business intelligence tool, the Municipal Enablement and Revenue Improvement Tool (MERIT), has been developed in-house to function alongside the metering system as a quality assurance mechanism. It allows for capturing all data arising out of the metering system (inflow and outflow), fixing data anomalies, and finding and eliminating leakages. The MERIT involves aggregating, analysing and segmenting raw metering data on a monthly basis in order to gather facts and thereby gain insights which will determine the strategic direction of the municipality.

In addition, the tool assists in performing energy balancing, customer profile comparisons, correlation between electricity and water usage, and, most importantly, the visualisation of all those in heat maps that point to hotspots and areas of need.

Consequently, this advanced data analytics tool will translate into increased revenues as it enables better monitoring and control of the network and customer loads. This allows distributors to pinpoint losses and bad customers, and respond accordingly.

It also promotes the understanding of one’s customers and enables initiatives aimed at those behavioural patterns. This runs hand-in-hand with the smart meter rollout programme ensuring a seamless transition from the old metering system with no data lost. The MERIT system is data driven and can also work in any manual metering programme. And – in essence – it makes the metering system ‘really’ smart. ESI

About the company

Founded in 2005, Ntiyiso Consulting is a management consulting firm with expertise across all major industries. The firm uses innovation to deliver services through three subsidiaries, namely Ntiyiso Business Transformation Consulting, Ntiyiso Revenue Consulting, and Ntiyiso Industrialisation Consulting. | | +27 (0)12 940 5435