An Increasing number of people are moving to the cities in Africa and utilities need a smarter way to monitor and charge for electrical consumption.
The right time for smart meters
“It is exactly the right time for smart meters in Africa,” explains Martin Sanne, Divisional Director, Head of Smart Grid Africa, Siemens, who spoke to Engerati at the African Utility Week, “The smart meter provides security of revenue-especially prepaid smart meters.” He points out that the meters will reduce non-technical losses which are very high throughout Africa.
Paying customers also like to be in control of their expenditure, explains Sanne. “The pre-paid smart meter is not only appealing for the residential customer-big power users are also keen to use this meter as they can keep their power spend under control. Electricity is a large portion of their expenditure so it makes sense for owners to be able to control this aspect.”
Utilities can expect a pretty fast return on investment as the new infrastructure pays itself off. Smart meters ensure a continuous income which they didn’t have before since power theft is no longer an issue. Power thieves and even whole areas can be cut off if revenue is not received by the utility. In addition to this, those living in energy poverty can be given a limited amount of free electricity. This can be measured and controlled more effectively with the smart meter. As this free supply nears its end, utilities notify users via their mobile phones so that they can top up their electricity.
The microgrid trend
Globally, the microgrid trend is growing. The microgrid is highly relevant for rural areas which don’t always have access to grid power. These microgrids require smart meters in order to generate and monitor income effectively, explains Sanne. “There is also a very relevant business case here for both the microgrid consumer and utility. Co-generation with utilities can be arranged. Utilities can make a service provision out of it or infrastructure build as a service. While the utility exists, it can license service providers who develop the infrastructure. They then get a service fee. That would solve many problems. If we can get the trend right in Africa, that would solve the access issue and power problems.”
Sanne says that it is time that incumbents go as it is time for change. “The continent needs innovation and the only way we can do this is to encourage entrepreneurs to the sector.”