We discuss challenges being faced by energy providers in deploying and managing smart grid technologies to improve the reliability, efficiency and intelligence of their energy distribution networks.
We also look at some of the recommendations highlighted by energy stakeholders present at the 2017 annual African Utility Week, to improve the region's energy sector.
Smart grid development
In a panel discussion drafted to highlight what smart grid technologies are applicable to Africa, Francisco Jose Arenas, smart grid architect at Schneider Electric in Spain, said digitisation is the way forward in helping Africa address its energy woes.
He said the deployment of advanced distribution management systems and an increase in integration of renewable energy resources and microgrids with grid systems would help utilities stabilise grid networks and reduce the energy costs for their customers.
The development of infrastructure to help utility firms to understand consumer energy consumption patterns and the use of open data to create new utility revenue streams are some of the recommendations highlighted by attendees of the discussion.
Wilfred Shereni, revenue assurance manager at Zimbabwe Transmission and Distribution Company said poor communication infrastructure is affecting smart grid deployments.
Shereni urged energy providers to turn to cheaper communication platforms such as fibre-optic technologies to provide connectivity for smart grid applications.
Bill Lan, Chief Strategist at Huawei Technologies in China, added that by deploying fibre optic cables using existing energy infrastructure, utility firms reduce will reduce the costs of implementing a communications infrastructure.
He said laying of fibre optic next to existing electricity infrastructure including poles reduces costs from $1,300 per kilometre to between $400 and $500 per kilometre.
By using their own communications infrastructure, energy providers would, in turn, reduce operational expenses incurred in using networks owned by telecoms.
Regulation and rollout of grid technologies
However, some utility executives said the majority of regulatory frameworks in Africa deny energy providers to lay, own and operate telecommunications infrastructure.
In response, Frank Rizzo, director of the technology sector at KPMG in Africa, said there is a need for utility executives, utility boards and energy regulators to engage in dialogue with national regulatory officials in developing models which allow utilities to own and operate telecoms infrastructure and even provide telecoms services.
As Africa starts to show interest in advanced metering infrastructure to improve accuracy in billing, the majority of pilot projects deployed so far aim to help energy providers recover bill arrears owed by residential, municipal and commercial customers.
The planning, deployment and management of smart meter programmes were one of the major topics at the African Utility Week. The event hosted a panel discussion on 'What infrastructure is needed to develop smart metering infrastructure?'
In response to the topic in question, Emad El Sewedy, CEO of El Sewedy Electrometer Group in Egypt, recommended utility companies to deploy open-standard smart meter technologies to be able to accommodate new metering and other smart grid technologies in future. [Analysis: Impact of LED rollout on grid networks in Africa].
Marc Delandre, director of the metering division at Enedis in France, urged utilities in Africa to integrate smart metering and prepayment systems to reduce costs in modernising their infrastructure at the same achieve their targeted goals.
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