Throughout Africa, specifically the sub-Saharan Africa region, utilities and municipalities often attribute non-technical losses to an extensive list of challenges. In response to these challenges, strategic revenue collection methods such as the deployment of smart meters has risen. But has adoption been successful?
In this region, the power industry is characterised by regular blackouts, theft and fraud, and inefficient energy management. Furthermore, efficient customer service appears to be difficult to attain as utilities grapple with inaccurate invoicing and revenue losses. Smart electricity metering seems to be an effective solution to most of these challenges.
This article is a brief analysis of the challenges and possible solutions to smart electricity metering in Africa. It is based on documentary reviews, supplemented by an interview between Simulation Consultants and industry experts.
Many African countries have been engaging in several initiatives to make smart metering a reality. Such initiatives include changes in the legal framework, development of new business strategies, and adjustments in funding applications to include smart metering at a business level.
Advanced Metering Infrastructures (AMI) and smart grids are significant developments paving the way for smart metering at the technological level. As much as all of these initiatives are welcome, they are not by themselves comprehensive solutions. Considering the fragmented nature of adoption, reactionary deployments and the level of ambiguity on smart meter definitions, we conclude that a holistic approach to smart metering in Africa is needed.
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Solutions for utilities
Smart metering in Africa has been subject to external influence from dissimilar overseas suppliers. This approach has also contributed to disparate implementations, which are an impediment to smart solutions’ standardised and strategic growth within the electricity sector. According to our findings, successful implementation of smart metering will require collaboration between all stakeholders in the industry.
Most of the smart meter implementations in almost all African countries are very patchy – there is no implementation uniformity. This inconsistency is a result of poor standardisation, which inhibits growth. The reason for this is that the industry itself is fragmented. There is no cohesion among suppliers nor the implementing municipalities. A collaborative environment would bring all experts together to agree on relevant contextual strategies and solutions.
Although vendor participation in setting standards and definitions is desirable, it is minimal if at all present
Currently, there are no agreed-upon definitions of smart meters in Africa. The lack of clear definitions means that one municipality may be adopting what they call a smart meter only to discover that it is not, and that the meters they have installed are not solving current or future problems that smart meters are meant to address. Painful incidences already exist where thousands of smart meters had to be replaced during their initial stage of useful lifespan. A collaboration of stakeholders would enable the sharing of know-how and acceptance of relevant definitions and technical requirements.
Although vendor participation in setting standards and definitions is desirable, it is minimal if at all present. As much as utilities are asset owners, they lack the expertise that could describe standards and specification requirements, especially during these early stages of adoption. A lot of this expertise resides with the vendors who are also manufacturers.
Unfortunately, it is the utilities that typically document the technologies which fit their perspective. However, what they define without specialists like vendors habitually becomes too cumbersome or complex to manufacture. Consequently, they end up bleeding cash in ways which an industry standardisation could have avoided.
Creating a common ground will lead to clarity of standards and specifications, a more formalised and incremental adoption and investor buy-in. Taking this route will automatically result in a good return on investment (ROI) for vendors and municipalities.
Several organisations which define standards for smart meters do exist. These organisations include the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) in South Africa and the African Electrotechnical Standardisation Commission (AFSEC) on the continental level. However, our findings reveal that the participation of the manufacturers in such forums is not satisfactory.
The coming together of all industry stakeholders to form an association that defines specifications, sets the standards, and forms smart meter implementation strategies in Africa is highly recommended. Such an alliance should comprise vendor representatives, utilities and municipalities, other standards-setting bodies (like AFSEC and NRCS) and relevant government officials and consultants.
– your smart metering partner –
Solutions for utilities
As manufacturers, vendors are technology experts. They will look at the requirements across the continent and propose appropriate and possible solutions. Utilities will contribute insight into their unique needs and processes. In return, they will benefit from the knowledge of definitions and relevant specifications when developing tenders. Standard-setting bodies will bring the understanding of how to standardise and bring uniformity to the industry.
Relevant government officials, preferably form the ministry of energy and finance, would reconcile smart meter initiatives to national strategies. Consultants will research good global practices and assist in strategy formulation. The resulting effect would be convincing business cases, proper regulations in pricing and principles, accelerated and measurable growth ROI for municipalities and vendors.
Smart metering solutions in Africa are undeniably an excellent solution to the challenges of the electricity sector. Current fragmented approaches, including overseas technologies, have not helped it. There is a need for a cohesive regional force to determine what is applicable, feasible and practical for the African context. The expertise is available, but it is time to harmonise it to benefit the African continent. ESI
- AFROPOLITAN. 2020. The Challenges of Smart Metering For African Countries. https://afropolitain.com/index. php/2020/10/23/the-challenges-ofsmart-metering-for-african-countries/
- Blimpo, MP & Davies MC. 2019. Electricity Access in Sub-Saharan Africa. Uptake, Reliability, and Complementary Factors for Economic Impact. African Development Forum.
- ESI Africa Issue 2, 2019 pg 22. One guide to rule all your smart metering projects. Shawn Papi, Senior Advisor, Eskom Research Testing & Development and member of AFSEC TC13.
About the authors
Dr Ratakane B. Maime is a lecturer, researcher and a specialist in business, finance and information systems. He is currently a director and founder of JETBo Research Consulting and a senior researcher and consultant at Simulation Consultants
Dr Thabo Mosala is a consultant, lecturer and business coach. Dr Mosala has a PhD: Banking and Finance from Rushmore University in the US and is the CEO and founder of Simulation Consultants where his advisory services focus on strategies for growth.