This week, we look at measures energy providers in Africa can implement to achieve a successful smart meter rollout programme.We discuss consumer and utility benefits associated with the deployment of an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI).

According to energy stakeholders including utility Enedis and smart grid solution firms Landis+Gyr and Itron, present during a panel discussion held at the African Utility Week recently, smart meters help:

• Reduce transmission and distribution losses
• Improve utility revenue collections through accuracy in billing and debt recovery
• Help energy providers improve customer services by enabling customers to improve their efficiency and reduce bills
• Optimise utility operations by improving management of grid network through access to grid events data
• Enable demand-side management

Commenting on whether utility firms in Africa are ready for the mass adoption of smart meters, Harold Hayes, chief technology officer at Landis+Gyr in South Africa, said: “it is never a good time in Africa to start a new big change.”

Hayes urged utility firms to create a detailed implementation plan before engaging in the installation of an AMI system. He said the plan need to ensure the back office is in place and working before the deployment of smart meters.

He urged energy companies to keep IT application and smart grid vendors involved in system builds to ensure a successful integration of smart meters, related communication and operational technologies with the grid system.

He suggested that this would help avoid under-estimation of IT costs and of the time needed for deployment of the IT infrastructure and of the project as a whole.

From the discussion, energy stakeholders present agreed that when planning and deploying a mass smart meter rollout project, there is a need for energy providers to secure private and public sector sponsorship and dedicate the majority of their resources towards the programme.

Other factors highlighted and agreed upon include:

  • The development of multiple engineering standards
  • The use of local manpower
  • There is need for social media involvement to communicate with customers
  • Traditional adverts including SMS, posters and television to be used to respond to customer reactions and perceptions
  • Implementation of an online smart meter installation solution where consumers can register online to be equipped with the new meters. This simplifies and speeds up the smart meter rollout programme.
  • All business processes have to be changed hence the need to hire contract and permanent technical document writers responsible for the maintenance of the documentation of the project.
  • There has to be a simultaneous operation of manual and advanced infrastructure since day to day utility business continues during smart meter rollout
  • Ensure smart meter installers have enough electricians
  • Take pictures of meter installation and tests
  • Increase expectations of the project as tampering may increase during the rollout of the meters.

“Customers will complain. If plan A did not work, the alphabet has 25 more letters. Staying cool in deploying smart meters is smart.” reiterated Hayes. [Interviews at African Utility Week 2017].

 

Image credit Shutterstock.