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Communication infrastructure cited as major reason why Smart Meters fail in Nigeria

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Experts in the electricity sector have emphasized that Nigeria might not be prepared to implement smart metering for all its electricity customers due to the absence of much needed communications infrastructure.

However, mass metering via the use of regular meters is gaining some ground.

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) acknowledged significant improvement in Nigeria’s metering and information technology infrastructure in its 2022 Market Competition Report compared to the status as of 2013.

Despite this progress, the full deployment of the required technology is an ongoing process, at varying stages of implementation within both the wholesale and retail markets.

Consequently, Nigeria is not yet fully equipped to embrace 100% smart metering.

A source from one of the country’s distribution companies (DisCos) told ThePressNG that the electricity sector in Nigeria is far from implementing smart meters universally in households and businesses.

The reason behind this is that local manufacturers believe they should have a direct role in the distribution of smart meters to the general population.

However, the source highlighted that smart meters manufactured in Nigeria lack certain features necessary to address specific challenges within the electricity sector.

Additionally, achieving 100% smart metering adoption in the country is contingent upon having a smart national grid, which is not currently a primary focus of the sector because there are so many other immediate issues that the sector needs to tackle first.

This stance is also echoed in an October 2023 insight report from the Energy Markets and Rates Consulting (EMRC) Limited, which stated that smart meters, substations, and appliances are some of the fundamentals of a smart grid.

The EMRC report stated that smart grids can track the operations of systems connected to the grid as well as user preferences for consuming electricity while also providing real-time data on all energy events.

It is crucial to emphasize that the key distinction between regular meters and smart meters lies in the communication capabilities of the latter.

Smart meters possess the ability to communicate through a dedicated communication module, connecting to a remote backend system.

This facilitates the remote and real-time reading of meter data by the utility (DisCo) and allows remote disconnection without requiring a physical visit to the meter.

The evolution of smart metering technology has advanced beyond basic remote meter reading through AMI/AMR technologies to encompass IoT (Internet of Things)-based meters and devices.

These advanced systems can not only read meter data but also monitor the health of the utility’s network. Odion Omonfoman, the Managing Director of New Hampshire Capital Limited, shared insights with ThePressNG, stating that the current metering specifications outlined by NERC for smart meters focus on those utilizing 4G technology within the MAP and NMMP schemes.

However, despite the intelligence of these meters, equipped with GPRS-based communication modems, a significant portion of meters manufactured in Nigeria face limitations in remote communication due to insufficient network communication infrastructure. Omonfoman further highlighted that Nigerian meter manufacturers locally assemble both regular and smart meters, underscoring the country’s adequate capacity for smart meter assembly.

Nevertheless, he emphasized that deploying smart meters without the necessary communication infrastructure is an inefficient use of capital by distribution companies (DisCos). Ultimately, this inefficiency leads to higher electricity tariffs for consumers.

Consequently, a collaboration between NERC and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is essential to establish a standardized Nigerian smart meter communication protocol or a dedicated communication frequency exclusively for smart metering devices.

He said:

Shola Ogunniyi, the Managing Director of Hacom Energy Limited, emphasized the significance of smart metering in the energy sector.

He said it enables real-time monitoring and communication of electricity usage, offering consumers detailed insights and aiding utilities’ inefficient resource management. Ogunniyi outlined key advantages, including enhanced energy efficiency, reduced wastage, and empowering consumers to make informed decisions about their consumption patterns.

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Ogunniyi added that hurdles like low consumer purchasing power, telecom infrastructure limits, as noted by Omonfoman, and the recent NMMP 2.0 Project deadlock due to local meter manufacturers’ concerns may hinder broad adoption.

On the other hand, the adoption of regular meters in the country is on the rise. In the Q1/2023 Electricity Market Report from NERC, it was stated that a total of 171,107 meters were installed between January and March 2023, representing an increase of 6,495 installations (3.95%) compared to the 164,612 meters installed in Q4/2022.

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