Less than 10% of Sub-Saharan (SSA) rural households have access to electricity, with an overall access rate below 25%. You would think that capacity and low access rates would be at the top of utilities’ to-do lists. So why are so many African utilities finding the time to explore smart metering technology? Surely this is for overseas markets that have got the basics right? Well, according to the experts, smart metering can offer all utilities numerous benefits as long as they carefully select technology that will meet their area’s specific needs. In an exclusive interview with Engerati at African Utility Week 2013,Peter Verstergren Akesen, Solutions Manager atKamstrup, explains that utilities often choose technology without first checking that the functionality is appropriate to an area’s requirements. He advises utilities to understand their needs first before ordering the technology as this will save a great deal of time and finance. He adds, “Utilities must take a step back and ask what it is they wish to achieve or measure. The technology should then be chosen to deliver on those needs only.” Akesen suggests that utilities investigate the technology thoroughly before making a final decision. Details on installation, operation, maintenance, total costs, and service level agreements should be well understood.
Imraan Mohamed, Marketing Manager for Itron-Sub-Saharan Africa, suggests that utilities segment their customers in order to appropriately assess area needs before purchasing smart meter equipment. He explains: “Do rural customers need smart meters, for instance? Perhaps all they require is grid connection. Demand response and fancy smart metering equipment may not be suitable for this sector. If a proper segmentation is not carried out, it’s possible that the full benefits of smart technology will not be attained.” He adds: “Smart metering is not about the meter, it’s about the knowledge gained. If you put the right technology in place, you will obtain useful data.”
But is Africa really ready for smart metering? Akesen says yes. He points out that Africa is at a huge advantage as its utilities can learn from decisions made by overseas markets which are perhaps more developed.
He explains that although Africa’s infrastructure is ageing and perhaps not ready to accept the wide range of smart metering technology, utilities can explore wireless solutions. According to Akesen, all consumers (across all segments) can benefit from smart metering as most of the smart functions will help resolve Africa’s unique challenges such as accurate billing, integration of renewable power, energy efficiency, non-technical losses, and customer engagement with utilities. Smart meter technology will also help customers to use power more efficiently.
Mr Mohamed concludes that the collaboration of stakeholders-utilities, and companies involved in metering, green generation and telecommunication- will help when choosing appropriate smart technology. This will go a long way to enhancing business processes, utility operations and particularly, customer services.
Smart metering has a place in Africa. It has the potential of meeting the needs and specific challenges of Africa’s utilities and electricity consumers. However, utilities must select the right technology from the outset.