While the drive for smart metering in Africa is very different when compared to some of the mature markets, the business case for metering is very strong. Europe’s deployments, often government-mandated, are usually on the back of energy efficiency strategies whereas in Africa, while energy efficiency is also important, metering is used mostly to reduce debt and power theft. South Africa , for instance,loses about (US$366 million) R4.4 billion a year due to electricity theft.
Communicating smart meter benefits to customers
Doepel points out that the main challenges are getting the investment and infrastructure right to attract investment to allow for programmes to take off. He points out that proper customer engagement is also lacking and is one of the main causes for the slow deployment of smart metering.
He explains: “There is often a lack of understanding from the consumer side and this is mainly because utilities do not communicate the smart meter benefits effectively enough. The individual benefits (as well as for the broader community) have not been properly discussed with customers. Customers have to be made more receptive to smart meters and this is the job of the utility.”
Changing customer engagement strategies
Utilities often do not come from a high position of trust so they often have to start with the basics before approaching their customers with smart meters, says Doepel. A different level of engagement has to be created before the successful deployment of meters can take place. He says that utilities should be a lot more confident in their engagement with customers. For too long, the utility has been very “inward thinking” and this has to change. “You have to start engaging in a different way and have a different conversation with your consumers.”
Despite various challenges, most countries across Africa are taking part in smart metering trials and putting plans into place according to specific needs.