There appears to be a new buzz of optimism in Africa, with metering and other power sector developments under way across the continent.

Inevitably in a continent of 53 countries spanning some 8,000 km from top to bottom and hundreds, if not thousands, of cultures, there will be many differences in approach. And with less than 25 percent of the approximately 900 million population having access to electricity, and other issues such as lack of finance and outdated power systems that have been poorly maintained, the challenges are immense, but there are indications that these are being faced head on.

“Africa is on the move,” said the World Bank’s vice president for the Africa Region, Gobind Nankani, recently. “The last ten years have seen renewed growth and improved governance across a number of African states, setting the stage for taking advantage of opportunities that are emerging from a rapidly changing world economy.”

While the development of infrastructure, such as power generation and transmission capacity, is key for countries and regions in Africa – and increasingly these projects are being planned at the regional level – at the utility level day-to-day sustainability depends on reducing losses, which typically average in excess of 30 percent, and improving revenue collection. Metering is key, and increasingly from South Africa in the south through Southern, East, Central and West Africa to Morocco in the north, prepayment is proving the technology of choice.

Consider the situation of Nigeria, facing high losses due to among other factors a high level of unmetered connections, a high level of old and inaccurate meters, and an average payment rate of around 40 percent: “Metering and billing were the major sources of energy and revenue losses,” points out Uzoma Achinanya, market operator of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. “In order to deal with these, prepayment, which is capable of reducing non-technical losses substantially and raising collection efficiency quickly, was selected – and not as a normal industry strategy for revenue protection, but as a critical and strategic national project.”

Now some two million prepayment meters are expected to be installed in Nigeria over the next two years.

Nor is prepayment being deployed just as a loss control measure. In Cape Town, South Africa, for example, prepayment, which is widespread across the city – albeit with challenges in integrating four different historic systems into a single one – is now mandatory in all new housing developments and householders may opt (at a nominal cost) for the technology to replace an existing post-pay meter.

Some of these issues will come under discussion in Metering, Billing/CRM Africa, which is being presented as part of African Utility Week by Smart Energy International in Cape Town from May 28 to June 1. While much of the programme is devoted to prepayment, other topics will include meter systems and billing and customer service, as well as the announcement of the annual prepayment innovation award winners – its aim: the provision of the integrated metering, billing and customer management toolkit as part of the strategic and technical blueprint for African utilities.