Sifelani Tsiko Senior Writer
Zimbabwe stands to save more than US$120 million worth of energy a year if it speeds up the installation of smart meters, which have the capacity to reduce transmission and distribution losses, energy experts say.
An independent energy solutions expert Mr Ben Mavedzenge, said if Zesa accelerated the installation of smart meters, it could realise huge savings as customers better manage and reduce their energy consumption and costs.
“Accelerating the installation of smart meters is the way to go,” he said.
“The (other form of) prepaid meter system (currently being used) is costing the country heavily in terms of transmission and distribution loses.
It’s a closed system that has serious short comings.
We need efficient and dependable systems such as smart meters which can reduce our energy costs.”
His comments come in the wake of plans by Zesa Holdings to pursue the path to smart meters after the energy utility realised the serious technical risks associated with the other two year – prepaid meter system which was bleeding the company of a conservative US$10 million a month due to power theft and leakages.
University of Zimbabwe electrical engineering chairman Engineer Golden Kapungu, was quoted as saying smart meters could address problems associated with electricity theft and revenue leakages.
“I think the installation of smart meters is of paramount importance because the power utility will be able to establish what will be happening with electricity consumption,” he said.
“Maybe the problem will be that of funding because these smart meters also need to be connected to the smart grid.
So, I am not sure whether we have the capacity to sponsor such a kind of system upgrading.”
Zesa announced recently that it will spend more than US$100 million to install 300 000 smart units and a further US$7 million to procure a Meter Data Management central system.
“The accelerated deployment of open smart metering technology will result in Zimbabwe realising savings in excess of US$120 million more than what was envisioned with the pre-paid meter system,” Mr Mavedzenge said.
The open smart metering technology, he said, had numerous advantages for customers.
“With an open smart metering system customers can have the benefits of enjoying new products and services through the development of a process that makes it simple for customers to identify and find new products that will work with the smart meter system.
“For example, the smart meter system can also be used to measure water among other products.
The new meters can also provide information that helps customers take advantage of market pricing to better manage their energy costs.”
Energy experts say smart meters with teleprocessing device can offer a platform that assure higher speed, effectiveness and user friendliness in the relationship between the power utility and its customers.
Superseding analogue meters, a smart meter runs on a digital system and supports complex automatic data transfers.
Smart metering, they say, lets customers know how much power they are using and in what ways, communicate usage data remotely and choose among competing suppliers without having to replace the meter.
From the power utility’s standpoint, smart metering improves network operation, speeds up troubleshooting and enables remote implementation of contract changes such as new connections, cancellations, new tariff options and more.
The open smart metering technology was tested and piloted in 2012 by Connect the World, a local energy solutions company together with ZETDC.
ZETDC, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority, Standards Association of Zimbabwe and the Ministry of Energy and Power Development have all endorsed the open smart metering technology after the success of the trials.
If the smart metering technology was rolled out fully, energy experts say, a supply of about 900 MW could be enough for the country as energy savings are realised and consumers cut their power usage.
Using the current system, Zimbabwe would need up to 2 200MW, an amount which the country could not meet with the present energy production infrastructure.