How Smart utilities can power Nigeria’s future smart cities

Smart cities are growing in popularity as most of the world, including city planners, come to accept that the future of their cities will depend on integrating technology into the lives of residents.

Hence, in places like Singapore, Dubai, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, etc, smartphones, for instance, have become keys to the city, providing instant information about transit, traffic, health services, safety alerts, and community news into millions of hands.

But achieving the smart city is beyond just installing digital interfaces and integrating them with advanced mobile technologies. It requires huge investments in electricity that will keep the smart innovations up and running round the clock.

For emerging countries like Nigeria with smart city ambitions, increasing electricity capacity is an uphill task. The Nigeria Smart Cities Initiative which was launched in 2017 is aimed at encouraging ICT integration in the country’s urban infrastructure and the Smart Africa blueprint initiative unveiled in Rwanda in 2013. Experts say Nigeria’s pursuit of a smart city is putting the cart before the horse as basic infrastructure like electricity has remained elusive despite billions of naira in investment in the sector.

The country currently generates far less than what its over about 100 million families and businesses require to keep their lives running. At slightly above 5000MW Nigeria generates a fraction more than the 4,132MW its neighbour Ghana uses to power its 30 million people and far below the over 58,000MW what South Africa generates.

Authorities have long identified the distribution of electricity as one of the elephants in the room.  An overwhelming majority of consumers pay for services through an estimated billing system which leaves room for extortion,  bypassing the charges and generally inefficient in getting electricity to the last mile.

A large number of registered electricity consumers don’t have smart meters. According to experts, addressing this problem will enhance the efficiency of revenue collection by distribution companies (DisCos) and thereby facilitate meeting their obligations to other upstream market participants like the generation companies (GenCos) and the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).

The Nigeria government under the National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP) plans to roll out six million meters for all connection points on the grid without meters within 24 months starting from September 2020. This is expected to impact 30 million consumers nationwide.

But the potential of metering is beyond just making more money for operators. Smart metering will enhance the efficiency of the revenue collection of the electricity providers, says Benjamin Nnamdi Ani, Team Lead, Smart Utilities, CWG Plc.

“The collection efficiency of the DisCos is between 45 percent to 60 percent. This is a huge revenue loss. Smart meters with a proper and comprehensive customer enumeration can drive the collection efficiency to above 90 percent, thereby increasing revenue by N30 billion from all DisCos on a monthly basis. This will greatly boost the economy, as more funds will be available to run the GenCos and maintain the existing DisCos and TCN infrastructure,” Ani told BusinessDay.

CWG has been pushing for the adoption of smart metering in Nigeria. The company which is a licenced meter has a contract sum of $11.1 million by the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) to deploy over 100,000 smart meters in Babaoko, Omu Aran, and Jebba Business Hubs.

CWG’s bet on smart meters for smart cities is their ability to not only provide electricity but also to provide communication systems capable of providing other services like WiFi hotspots. This is a staple for a smart city. While utilities are developing new private networks and advanced technologies to meet the demands of more distributed energy resources, they position themselves for smart city opportunities.

There are many smart city projects states in Nigeria are looking to get underway. For instance, the Ekiti State government is already sourcing for investment for their smart city project under the name of Ekiti Knowledge City. One of the early-stage investors of that project is the African Development Bank (AfDB) which intends to finance road projects and upgrade the airport in Ekiti State.

All of these projects need to be supported by smart utility infrastructure that promotes operational excellence.

“We envision a world of smarter cities with smart utilities,” said Ani.

CWG already owns a skin in the technology with the SMART Utility Systems which enables consumers to enhance income and sustain growth by overcoming the challenges of poor power metering, illegal connections and conduct energy use audits with ease. According to the company, SMART Utility Systems has the potential to enhance accurate metering; theft prevention; regulate power billing system, and monitor and regulate connectivity and meter bypass.

“The growth of the Nigerian power sector is hampered by huge power losses due to improper metering and power theft. Our solution makes it possible to detect theft and alert power companies with the precise location in real-time,” said Ani.