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The Challenges of Smart Metering for African Countries

The smart meter, also known as a networked meter, is a device providing energy consumption information. In “near real time” and informing, by extension, the state of the network. The communication technology used, known as AMR (Automated Meter Reading), is intended to transmit information via different channels such as CPL, GSM, Internet etc.

Its main objective is to solve energy problems such as:

  • Optimization technical and non-technical losses
  • Control of one’s energy consumption
  • The optimization of the quality of electricity supply

The smart electrical meter, pillar of smart grids, suggests important development prospects for the African continent.

However, it is difficult to talk about Africa in general, as disparities are important in terms of electrification. The continent’s electrification rate is 42% (99% in the Maghreb and 29% in sub-Saharan Africa). And it varies widely between urban and rural areas.

Africa’s electricity production capacity is now about 74 GW. The equivalent of Spain with a population of 45 millions, while Africa has a population of 860 millions. The population is expected to reach the 2 billion mark by 2050. And increase the share of people without access to electricity.

Despite very important energy resources, 10% of the world’s water reserves, 10% of the world’s oil reserves also 8% of the world’s gas reserves and 6% of the world’s coal reserves, sub-Saharan Africa does not have access to electricity. This low rate is partly explained by the lack of infrastructures. And the aging of the equipment, resulting in frequent rolling blackout. Which penalizes the lives of many inhabitants and hurts the industrial development.

The African continent therefore has a very important development potential that could be accelerated by the arrival of smart meters and smart grids in a more global way. Smart meters would contribute to improving the network and the quality of services provided to consumers.

Indeed, these networked meters allow:

  • Combat fraud and theft
  • To intervene remotely in the event of a breakdown and thus reduce the intervention time often very long,
  • Offer innovative tariff services adapted to the consumption habits of local populations and their purchasing power
  • Inform the consumer of their consumption in real time. And in doing so, to raise their awareness for a responsible use of energy

These meters would therefore enable operators to achieve significant savings. And provide better service to consumers by limiting the rolling blackouts. Moreover, the development of renewable energies on the continent and the problems related to their integration on the local network could be facilitated by smart meters. Indeed, these sources of decentralized and by definition intermittent energies (wind, solar) can cause constraints on the network.

Significant investments are however required for the equipment but also for the information system to set up a modern billing management system and ensure a big data storage. These investments, which are not often subsidized in Africa, often put a damper on the project. On the other hand, doubts and fears related to the securing of data complicate even more this issue.

In Africa, some countries have already started projects for the deployment of smart meters or are working on R&D programs. Let’s take the example of South Africa. Where the “Hefcom” networked meters were installed in 2008/2009 in the town of Blairgowrie. Unfortunately, this project could not be finalized due to the numerous over-calculated invoices. And technical problems, in particular concerning conflicts related to communication signals.

A few examples

In Johannesburg, a $150 million contract was signed. Between City Power, Itron and EDISON Power Group for the installation of the next generation of smart meters and the associated metering system. Started in 2015, the ambition of the project is to install a smart/prepaid meter in each home or business. To meet the bill management challenge. It is also possible to combat fraud with these advanced meters.

In Cameroon, the ARSEL (Electricity Regulatory Agency) has launched a project to install smart meters, including “prepaid” counting In Cameroon. In order to overcome problems in invoicing not matching the consumption, fraud and corruption, 1,000 meters will be installed in Yaoundé during the experimentation phase and the project will then be extended to all of the AES-Sonel subscribers.

The smart meter thus appears as an opportunity for the African continent. But this opportunity implies that many necessary challenges have to be overcome for its implementation.

Credit: Julien Keller

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