A smart metering specification for Africa, by Africa

Africa is unique. While energy poverty is rich in natural resources that generate energy, it remains a challenge, with more than 600 million people without access to electricity.

Africa and energy poverty

Africa’s energy poverty exacerbates economic poverty and has resulted in Africa’s poorest people paying some of the highest prices in the world for energy. Africans pay an average of $0.13/kWh, while the rest of the world enjoys a typical rate of $0.04/kWh to $0.08/kWh. Africa’s utilities are therefore challenged to implement a business model that delivers reliable and cost-effective energy to consumers while adding value to the utility.

Fourth industrial revolution

Digitization ambitions have impacted the way utilities operate globally. Smart meters are a specific area where these impacts are very prominent and have the potential to help with energy access challenges. As the operational requirements of utilities evolved, so did the feature set, form factor and connectivity of meters. Over the past 30 years, we have seen the gradual evolution of meters, from basic electro-mechanical devices to state-of-the-art electronic devices, with extensive feature sets. As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, we will see the next evolution of smart meters, with integrated cloud connectivity and support for advanced methods of consumer interaction, complemented by analytics and artificial intelligence, with the potential to meet changing needs of utilities in Africa.

The decision on meter specification has always been a challenge for utilities, due to the varying needs of consumers and the needs of the utility itself. This challenge is compounded by the typical expected 20-year installation life and the wide range of technologies offered by meter manufacturers. The consumer of the future will demand detailed information about their energy consumption, in their drive to save costs and use energy responsibly, as well as a convenient method of communicating with their services. The utility of the future will be pivotal from providing basic energy access to demand response, loss reduction, energy availability and integration of small-scale power generation systems. The informed decision on meter specification is therefore crucial.

African measurement standard

To help utilities with their metering decision, the Association of Power Utilities Africa (APUA), the Union of Electric Power Producers, Transporters and Distributors in Africa with representation in 46 countries, has begun developing an Africa-focused metering standard, for adoption by all its members in Africa. The development of this specification has been entrusted to the African Electrotechnical Standardization Commission (AFSEC), which in turn has established a technical committee (ATC13) comprising utilities, a manufacturer interest group and subject matter experts. The technical committee has been actively working on this standard since 2021, with the aim of publishing this African standard in July 2023 as “AS70000-1: Smart Metering Systems – General Requirements”. The standard covers metering applications up to 50 kVA. Once published, this standard will become the basic specification for smart metering systems for APUA member states and other African countries. Consequently, these standards will lay the foundation for technical harmonization for utility metering and enable larger initiatives such as the Africa Single Electricity Market and the Continental Power Systems Masterplan.

Some of the main achievements of this standard are to ensure that the specified meters meet the current and future needs of utilities. The standard is tailored to the needs of African utilities and covers the topics of meter connectivity, meter functions, meter performance, security (physical and cyber) and interoperability.

Fit for purpose and future proof technologies

In developing AS70000-1, ATC13 focused on adopting and using mature, globally proven technologies and eliminating country-specific requirements and standards. To meet the interoperability requirement, the specification uses the global DLMS/COSEM protocol, with the integration of IDIS companion specification. Adoption of the IDIS Companion specification ensures the highest levels of interoperability, reduces risk and eliminates the need for repeated testing. The latest revision of IDIS also includes advanced rate features and demand management.

One of the most important architectural decisions a utility company must make is in terms of meter connectivity. While historical smart meter implementations have used a data concentrator or network gateway architecture to enable remote functionality of radio frequency (RF) and power line carrier (PLC) enabled meters, the AS70000-1 provides a direct-connected architecture, where meters are directly connecting to the head-end via the mobile network. Adoption of direct cellular connected meters has previously been limited to substation or zone monitoring, primarily due to the associated upfront, data costs and cellular network coverage – the widespread adoption of cellular technologies has resulted in lower initial costs, minimal data costs and extensive network coverage. Newly developed mobile technologies, such as NB-IoT and LTE-M, are suitable technologies designed for IoT devices such as meters, providing better coverage with lower power consumption. Removing the data concentrator or network gateway also improves overall system reliability and simplifies architecture, making it the preferred architecture.

Meter life expectancy also poses a challenge – billing models, feature set and configuration may evolve or vary over time as consumer and utility needs change – the inclusion of a remote software upgrade mechanism is therefore mandated to longevity of meters to guarantee the asset. Concerns related to ensuring meter accuracy after software updates are allayed by the implementation of legal separation – a software mechanism that ensures that a meter’s accuracy remains unaffected. The African standard AS70000-1 specifies the inclusion of remote firmware updates with legal separation as a mandatory requirement.

Safety

Cyberattacks and data privacy are major concerns of utilities in their smart metering programs. Implementing effective cybersecurity measures is critical as hackers become more innovative and more computing power becomes more accessible. In response, the standard has adopted a multi-level security architecture, resulting in multi-layered protection – these include the adoption of Security Suite 1 for the DLMS/COSEM protocol and the adoption of Standard Transfer Specification, Edition 2 (STS-2) .

Think smart, think Conlog

Conlog, Africa’s leading developer and manufacturer of smart metering solutions, is a key contributor to the development of AS70000-1. Conlog is an active member of APUA and a member of the ATC13 Manufacturers’ Interest Group. Conlog has used their extensive experience on the African continent to contribute to the standard, ensuring relevance in addressing the current and future needs of utilities and consumers.

A smart metering specification for Africa, by Africa

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