HomeRegional NewsAfricaModernising the grid for a digital future

Modernising the grid for a digital future

The African power sector is poised to embrace digitisation but is hesitant to take the necessary steps, states the chief technology officer at Landis+Gyr – a company that has taken bold strides towards delivering ‘smart’ in an industry confronted by an energy revolution.

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Edition 4, 2018. You can read the full digital magazine here or subscribe here to receive a print copy. 

Without a meter data management system (MDMS), the vast quantities of data delivered by smart metering rollouts will be unmanageable for utilities to seamlessly bill clients and analyse their network’s health.

The company has years of experience in delivering metering and digital solutions to the market, which has placed it as a key driver in dealing with this type of system integration and utility change management.

The company has assisted many clients to understand MDMS capabilities and to design unique reports. What projects come to mind that showcase becoming futureproof in a progressively digital world?

Landis+Gyr South Africa is currently working on many local projects and developments. The E460 meter range has been developed to meet local requirements with a focus on revenue protection. A successful Eskom Gauteng smart meter pilot is now being rolled out to various provinces. This equips the national power utility with a full solution to implement: meter reading, remote connect and disconnect, load limiting when required, remotely converting customers from post-paid to prepayment, on-demand meter reading, and load profiling.

Other projects within Eskom, local metros and smaller municipalities are also running well. However, local challenges have always been communication, meter to in-home display and back to the data concentrator, for which the Landis+Gyr G3-PLC solution has been very successful. This solution allows meters to be installed in steel enclosures (gun safes), large complexes, and high-rise buildings without having to install repeaters.

G3-PLC was developed to meet the industry’s need for a potentially ubiquitous power line communications standard that will enable the smart grid vision. G3-PLC facilitates highly-reliable, long-range communication over the existing power line grid and the company is very proud of the local R&D team that developed this local solution. Other successfully completed projects include:

  • Eskom: 30,000 smart meters with full turnkey project and installation, including meters, meter data unification and synchronisation system (MDUS) solution, meter deliveries, and data concentrators
  • eThekwini municipality: MDMS, head end system (HES), vending, meter deliveries, and solution implementation
  • Nigeria Abuja: 118,000 full turnkey project including systems, meters and installation
  • Nigeria Enugu: 80,000 meters plus system implementation
  • Kenya: 14,000 commercial and industrial meter project, meter deliveries, ‘train the trainer’ and assist with project rollout

In your view, what challenges need to be overcome for the industry to prosper?

The key challenges, which are global and have been discussed over the years, remain: Utilities having to focus on the short term and with limited budgets. Governments that need to electrify as many customers as possible and at the lowest cost. The problem with these strategies is that revenue will not follow.

The solution is for utilities to invest in meter solutions that are smart-ready. What this means is purchasing metering solutions that are upgradable. The current Landis+Gyr E460 meters can be installed as a standalone option; at a later date, the utility could purchase data concentrators and back office systems enabling ‘smart’.

To safeguard the successful implementation of meter rollouts, it would be ideal for utilities to give the solution provider the contract to deploy the technology. On completion, a fully functioning project will be handed over to the utility, which can then focus on their mandate.

Another challenge is the issue of electricity theft, which is still on the increase; however, so is the penalty for perpetrators. In South Africa, and other countries, the law has brought about harsher sentences whereby people arrested for meter tampering or copper theft are not allowed bail and the fines have increased.

Landis+Gyr has a presence in over 30 countries and offers solutions to bring the grid into the modern digital age. Does anything still surprise you?

That funding remains a concern for the continent and utilities are not investing in smart solutions that guarantee revenue protection.

The market is poised to make the change but the African power sector isn’t taking the necessary steps; it is following market trends but not implementing the change. Naturally people are afraid that things will be done differently, which will affect jobs such as employees in charge of meter readings, disconnections and reconnections. But – going smart doesn’t translate into cutting out roles and responsibilities, nor is it meant to cut jobs; rather it encourages and allows for employee growth and skills development.

There is also the challenge of community push back; when customers that haven’t been paying for years are provided with a smart meter, they know that they are going to have to pay their power bills.

Any last words for our readers?

Diversity of your resources is important. The market originally had the old standalone prepayment meters, which were easy to tamper with and bypassed. This moved to online meters and now fully ‘smart’ options are available giving you visibility on your network’s demand and supply, as well as when the system is being tampered with – smart metering is the way to go. For the African market, we’d like to see the industry investing in the future by changing the thinking of today and spending now on assets and meters, as this will bring longterm benefits. ESI

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Edition 4, 2018. You can read the full digital magazine here or subscribe here to receive a print copy. 

About the company Landis+Gyr South Africa is an electronic meter manufacturing company that offers a complete range of metering solutions, from prepayment, smart and credit metering to meter test equipment and system solutions. As a Level 1 BBBEE company, our meters are locally manufactured at the Midrand facility and supplied across Africa and globally. www.landisgyr.com



Babalwa Bungane
Babalwa Bungane is the content producer for ESI Africa - Clarion Events Africa. Babalwa has been writing for the publication for over five years. She also contributes to sister publications; Smart Energy International and Power Engineering International. Babalwa is a social media enthusiast.