Edwin Sibiya, chairperson of the South African Metering Industry Association, stated during Enlit Africa 2022 that consumers should become more of a priority when utilities develop and install smart metering systems as part of efforts to future-proof the grid in Africa.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t know”, answered Sibiya to the question about crucial steps to make sure Africa’s grids are ready for the future, pointing to the power ofdigitalisation and data in managing the grid infrastructure.
The question is, however, what exactly has the industry been doing with the data collected so far?
According to Sibiya, “the industry has been using that information only for its own need, but we never share that information with the end consumer. The industry has defined being smart as being able to get information, but if [consumers] can only get information without control, then they are not smart enough.”
While taking into consideration that smart meter penetration is still low in Africa, Sibiya emphasized how utilising this type of technology to share real-time information would allow for a direct connection between consumers and their energy consumption.
“We need to know the end consumers’ behavioural patterns, then that way we would be able to manage and future-proof the grid.”
According to Sibiya, information from utilities should be shared directly with the individual over their phones or other devices, leveraging an IoT system to provide information in as accurate a manner as possible.
As an example, Sibiya referenced the loadshedding situation in South Africa, which he describes as a “supply and demand issue…if the supply is less than the demand, we go into a blackout solution.”
In the case of loadshedding, he added, smart metering would provide a way to mitigate potential blackouts as consumers would be able to monitor their energy usage and adjust accordingly to meet demand requirements.
“With loadshedding, we don’t have sufficient technology to limit our electricity usage…If you go smart, (you can) look at the situation with smart meter [readings] where it measures at any given point in real time, giving information back.”
This information on one’s individual/household consumption would allow for loads to be adjusted and prevent a potential case of load shedding.
According to Sibiya, this is information that must be shared with the consumer before the power might be cut off.
“You’re using too much energy, reduce your usage, or else you will be cut off,” he stated as a system to effectively manage loads.
Sibiya also explained how part of the problem with certain meter reading systems is how consumers are informed about their energy usage.
“One of the things that I also find lacking in the technical industry is that we share the information of consumption to our users in kilowatts.”
He illustrated that the way in which utilities approach consumers needs to change. According to Sibiya, explaining technical information garnered from a meter reading is ineffective, although translating this into monetary implications of energy usage, he added, might result in behavioural change.
“I always ask my mother, do you know what a kilowatt is? She doesn’t. So I then need to explain to her. But while she might not understand kilowatts, my mother knows where her money goes and she will fight for that.
“To share the information in monetary terms with consumers…will force behavioural change within the market.”