There is a trend of smart metering across the world, but Africa may not be ready for this technology, says Viven Perumal, Marketing Manager at Conlog, who took time out to speak to Engerati at the African Utility Week 2014 conference.
He pointed to a number of reasons for this-lack of skills, market demand, appropriate needs, and limited budgets.
Lack of skill
Africa does not yet have the appropriate skill set to support the new technology. The technology needs the support of experienced data scientists who will be able to assimilate and analyze the data which is generated by the advanced smart meter. Says Mr Perumal, “Knowledge is data that has been interpreted. Therefore data is useless if it’s not knowledge. The right experts will be able to make sense of the smart meter data which can give us critical insight into consumption profiles and infrastructure operations.”
Spend your money wisely
Mr Perumal says that it is important for utilities to question the viability of investing in smart technology. He explains that utilities should understand their market and what they can afford. “You must use your capital expenditure wisely. Don’t be exposed to risk where you are going to be investing in technology that may not be used.”
A good example of this is the Smartphone. Some people never fully harness the potential of the phone’s applications-they use the phone only to make phone calls.
“Therefore, the balance of your feature set may not even be used. This is where African utilities are going to get caught with smart meters,” explains Mr Perumal.
In Africa, low electrification is a huge challenge. The majority of the African market has an average consumption of 20KW. Mr Perumal asks, “Does it make sense to install a meter to monitor this level of consumption or is it more important to improve electricity access?”
Pre-paid –most appropriate for Africa
While Africa does need some form of monitoring to protect utility revenue, it doesn’t have to be your first world smart meter. Needs differ substantially between continents and countries. Mr Perumal suggests that prepaid metering is probably the most appropriate for the majority of Africa.
The pre-paid meter still offers utilities a level of affordability, helps with efficiency, assists utilities to be more effective in monitoring the market, and the risk factor is minimal. Companies like Conlog offer various back up services to the utility when the meters are installed. Utilities don’t have to worry about skill shortages as they are able to rely on a third party instead of in-house skills which are mostly non-existent.
Mr Perumal points out that there aren’t many consumers in Africa who own smart appliances. Therefore, the outlay for advanced smart meters may not be financially viable for the utility. “It is critical that utilities assess their consumers’ needs and expectations before investing in equipment that may not be necessary.”
Africa has the lowest penetration of smart metering pilot sites. Mr Perumal says that this is a tell-tale sign: “Perhaps this trend is showing us that while Africa may need smart meters, the country may not be ready to embrace the technology because of functionality, affordability, skill sets, limited communications infrastructure, and insufficient clean power to support smart meters.” He adds that the grids may simply not be able to support this new technology.
Although Mr Perumal believes that Africa will adopt a smart metering solution, he thinks that it will be developed around the continent and grid needs. He believes that this move is “some years away” and says that it is a “bit pre-emptive” to invest heavily in smart meters now.