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The rise in popularity of smart meter devices is steadily putting electricity distributors in South Africa in an advantageous position to reduce their reaction time to resolve power outages and hardware faults, and improved customer service delivery via remote reading conveniences.

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Edition 3, 2018. You can read the full digital magazine here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

According to a report published by Grand View Research, the South African smart electricity meters’ market was valued at $54.1 million in 2017 and is projected to present opportunity worth over $79.5 million by 2025, growing at a CAGR of about 5.1% from 2018 to 2025. This evolving market is providing value to the utility regulatory authorities and the end users alike. The smart electricity meter is gaining popularity in South Africa, as it is being deployed with a prepaid system and is easy to use. Customers using prepaid meters can recharge their meter at any point using online portals and can obtain real-time data on the usage of electricity with a smart electricity meter.

According to the Grand View Research report, the South African residential market has shown a preference for smart electricity meters as these meters assist in keeping an eye on electricity consumption during a time when energy tariffs continue to rise. With a smart meter, the consumer is empowered to keep track of the usage of electricity on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Also, such meters spur awareness amongst end users about electricity usage behaviour so they can plan accordingly to become more energy efficient.

Notably, the end usage for smart electricity meters in South Africa is dominated by the residential market, followed by commercial and industrial usage. The residential applications include deployment of smart meters in suburban/urban apartments and standalone, autonomous households. The commercial segment provides for the use of smart metering systems in all commercial buildings and aligned infrastructures such as hotels, residential lodges, and small to large shopping complexes, and offices. The industrial segment involves the incorporation of advanced metering systems in product manufacturing facilities and processing plants.

Several municipalities in South Africa have considered deployment of smart metering systems to reduce electricity losses, promote energy efficiency, improve grid reliability and enhance their billing and credit control issues. However, these meter devices, being a new technology, would require significant investment from the municipalities for operations and maintenance of the metering system.

The South African government initiated national smart metering standards NRS049:2008; these were published to set a specific standard for the implementation of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) systems in the country. The standard specifies that the meter must store the energy consumption data as a total registered value and also the data in half-hourly intervals. The data retrieval station or system should support the retrieval of billing using the total cost and the half-hourly data. The municipalities would have a choice to bill their customers utilising the total registered value or the half-hourly data.

The Smart Grid Vision 2030 initiative laid down by the SA National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI) as a part of the South African Smart Grid Initiative (SASGI) is also anticipated to enhance the demand for smart electricity meters in South African cities. The Smart Grid Readiness Test initiated by SANEDI assists the municipalities in assessing their readiness for investing in a smart grid network. To date, some cities, including the City of Tshwane, City of Nelson Mandela Bay and City of Johannesburg, have deployed the City Power Smart metering project.

The country’s electricity distributors are acutely aware of the decline in traditional revenue sources as a result of lower sales due to growing trends in customers switching to own production and consumption, along with poor revenue collection, poor metering and asset management on the utility side.

These challenges can be brought under control through the deployment of smart electricity meters, which enable two-way communication between the metering device and a control centre. This is unlike the conventional methods that involve a physical data collection process, which is open to both technical and non-technical losses. The increase in smart meter rollouts will also assist in projecting the lower peak electricity demand; and put the power in the hands of end users – and an empowered consumer is more likely to stay your customer. ESI

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Edition 3, 2018. You can read the full digital magazine here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.