Revenue protection and choosing the right metering system were two prominent topics this week at African Utility Week in Cape Town, a power industry event that attracted African utilities, metering manufacturers and suppliers, as well as energy regulators from across the continent.

Rose Bundock, editor of Metering.com, was at the event and came up with this list of learnings from the conference for utilities and energy suppliers, particularly in Africa.

How to plan a meter rollout in Africa

1. Cut theftMaboe Maphaka African Utility Week

Electricity is the third most stolen commodity in the world after cars and credit card scams, said Maboe Maphaka, energy trading and sales forecasting at Eskom, South Africa’s state utility.

Aside from the loss in revenue to the utility, Mr Maphaka draws a direct link between international investors confidence in putting money into power projects and how well a utility is tackling non-technical losses.

2. Meter selection

Africa isn’t like Europe where you can be more experimental with metering technology, said Christo Nicholls, senior project manager at Edison Power Group, a South African-based provider.

Most countries will only have one chance to spend money on meters so they have to make the right choices - meters should last between 10-15 years so ask suppliers to prove that their equipment will go the distance.

3. Certification

When considering metering equipment suppliers, ask about the companies’ membership to key industry alliances such as DNV KEMA Energy & Sustainability, advised Harold Hayes, chief technical officer at Landis+Gyr. Validate the information by checking on the member lists of the respective websites, Or go one step further, as Mr Hayes suggests and ask for the original certificate during the tendering process.

interoperable-technology4. Open platform

Choose one technology platform to control your energy network and make sure it is open standard to ensure future interoperability, said Hayes.

Francois Conradie, head of data acquisition and metering at RMS, a reseller of Echeleon meters, says power line communications (PLC) using GSM is the new tech to hit South Africa and is being used in new commercial developments.

Siemens’ Andy Turner, head of smart grid application solutions, spoke about PLC using GPRS to get around issues with interference of communications.

But check your telecoms network can support your project before you begin as advised by Mohlomi Seitlheko, metering manager, at Lesotho Electricity Company. [Read more - Africa Insight: smart meter pilot - what we learnt in Lesotho]

5. Smart prepay

The next evolution of prepayment meters are becoming smarter.

EDMI brought a smart prepayment meter to the show; the STS Association shared information on a working group to introduce smart functionality to the platform, and Imraan Mohamed, marketing manager for Sub Saharan Africa at Itron, said you don’t need all functions of a smart meter for low-value customers but whereever possible try to get the meter online.

6. Community education

In Africa where many consumers have never had to pay for power, education is essential to avoid push back when utilities begin deploying meters, says change management expert Jodie Sherwin Hill based in Johannesburg.

Recruiting one representative from the community per thousand meters will make a big difference in a utility’s ability to manage tampering issues or protests about meter installation, said Ms Sherwin Hill.

And when make you explain the benefits of metering to customers, make sure you can actually deliver them, advised Sherwin Hill.

7. Commitment to pilots

To get the full value from an investment in pilots, utilities must dedicate enough staff to the project, said Hayes. This isn’t always happening and it seems like a waste of time and money, he said.