The softening of our economy over the past couple of years has brought us the somewhat Pyrrhic victory of easing our energy crisis. Rolling blackouts and dramatic electricity price increases are – for the time being – not appearing in our newspaper headlines and our dinner-table conversations.
But with our economy expected to slowly recover over the coming years, energy demand from businesses and households will start growing, once again placing pressure on our national grid.
Smart electricity metering is a technology field that continues to gain momentum, with a number of developed economies successfully introducing the technology. In the European Union, for instance, governments aim to replace about 80% of electricity meters with smart meters by 2020*.
Smart meters enable households, municipalities and energy companies to accurately monitor consumption, adjust energy flows and pricing to create optimal balances between supply and demand, and more easily integrate renewable energy sources into the grid.
We believe that it’s not the smart meters themselves that will solve South Africa’s energy crisis, but rather their ability to create greater consciousness about how we can all play a role in solving the problem.
Think about the example of prepaid airtime and mobile data. Consumers are generally very comfortable dialling a USSD string or opening up a mobile app to quickly check their balances. We’ve all become very good at regulating our behaviour based on this instant and always-available information. We know which types of phone calls, websites, apps and messaging services use the most airtime or data.
Imagine getting to the point where we have that same level of detail about our household electricity usage – knowing which appliances are consuming the most electricity at which times of the day. Just like with our smartphone behaviour, we’ll start becoming much savvier about how we use our electricity.
More information = more action
This has traditionally been the problem with post-paid, and to some extent prepaid electricity. Feedback on our usage patterns is just too opaque for us to know how to make those little changes in our usage, which add up to create a big difference at a national level.
Contrast that with the scenario that becomes possible with intelligent metering solutions: smart apps showing the time of the day that you use the most electricity, and revealing the most energy-hungry applications; useful tips that are tailored to your specific usage patterns and guide you on reducing your consumption; and the chance to participate in national energy-saving campaigns or incentives.
When it comes to energy consciousness, more information really does equal more action.
Smart metering technology can be easily retro-fitted into existing prepaid meter environments, with little additional investment required on the part of the consumer. The dashboards and consoles showing usage patterns can be viewed from simple mobile apps or web portals.
Due to the greater infrastructure costs further upstream in the value chain (utilities, distributors, municipalities etc) the ‘per kilowatt hour’ price of smart-metered electricity may be slightly more expensive. However, these increases will be greatly outweighed by the reduced number of units now consumed, generally resulting in a net financial gain for the consumer.
But as we embark on a smart metering journey, the most exciting opportunity is for consumers to generate their own power from renewable sources like solar roofing panels. Smart metering means we can supply this power back to the grid, effectively ‘selling’ energy to other users. All manner of new business ecosystems and entrepreneurs will spring up.
Now is the time for us as consumers to empower ourselves with information and technology that will help to reduce our energy usage, keeping our electricity bills in check, and lessening our impact on the environment.
By Johan Jansen Van Rensburg, Portfolio Manager: Cross Industry Solutions at T-Systems South Africa