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Challenges & Opportunities For The African Utility Industries

Last month the African Utility Week took place in Cape Town and gathered a record 6445 attendees from 17-19 May. The conference and exhibition is targeting the same industries as its sister event, the European Utility Week but African utility and renewable energy companies face different and unique challenges. The solution to most of those challenges however is the same as to Europe’s: technology.

African Utility Week 2016
Calm before the storm – the African Utility Week 2016 shortly before opening

According to Evan Schiff, event director of the African Utility Week conference and exhibition, technology, water and renewable energy were strong themes this year. He further states that there is no doubt that renewable energy as well as smart technology are changing the way power and water utilities operate and deal with their customers.

The same is valid for Europe, where modern IoT solutions, smart metering and renewable energies seek to reduce overall energy consumption, make the experience more personal and convenient for customers and to increase the percentage of green energy in the mix.

The situation in Africa on the other hand is very different. On the second largest continent of the world there still exist many rural areas, villages and towns which have no access to clean water, electricity and other utilities. In order to reach people living without these amenities companies need to find a way to supply utilities to them in an efficient and affordable way.

Smart grid and smart metering technologies could be valuable aspects of a solution – both to bridge the huge distances and to reduce maintenance costs. However tampering and bypassing of metering systems has been a huge issue in this area which generates the need for effective security solutions. Only then it will be possible to improve revenue management in order to fund investment in new platforms and smart grid infrastructure.

Another challenge is to secure revenue streams which could be achieved by transitioning from a pre-pay to a bi-directional integrated grid model.

Currently some areas in Africa further deal with negligence in the maintenance management of power stations which leads to shedding an supply deficiencies which impact the economy. In order to improve this situation the introduction of digital technologies to analyse processes and thereby to increase the effective use of resources makes sense.

Sierra Leone’s Dr Kandeh Yumkella, UN Under-Secretary-General and Former Special Representative of the Secretary-General and CEO, Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All), was awarded with the Lifetime Achievement Prize during the African Utility Week Industry Awards and said in his speech: “I know the energy revolution is powering up and ready to take off. We saw again this week that we have the technology and the innovation. Sometimes we are too suspicious of each other, we should embrace energy trade with each other”.

Dr. Kandeh Yumkella
Dr. Kandeh Yumkella during his speech at the African Utility Week 2016 (image: African Utility Week)

This statement reflects on how difficult it is to setup and manage grids in Africa. Modern IoT technology could help to bridge current borders.

In addition to the unique challenges it is also worth mentioning that besides Germany, India, The Netherlands, France and South Africa (all with featured country pavilions) the presence of China grew significantly.

During conversations on the show we got the distinct impression that there is an ever-growing focus on importing metering solutions from outside African borders (e.g. China, EU) than there is to encourage local design and innovation. The reason might be the current problems with security and trust.

Regarding renewable energy projects and investments ABB and Cape Africa are some of the players that have installed imported PV systems and wind turbine technology. CapeAfrica has installed 27MW windfarms and over 8000 PV panels to provide LED lighting to rural communities. ABB are actively installing PV microgrids.

While we are looking forward to the European Utility Week later this year it seems that it’s worth watching the dynamics and projects in Africa as current technologies might create interesting business opportunities for technology and utility companies on the continent.

For assistance with renewable energy technology and metering applications contact EBV here and take a look at our dedicated website here.

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