Headline: NERC’s New Meter Pricing Spurs Debate on Smart Meters in Nigeria
Nigeria’s Path to Universal Smart Metering Faces Communication Infrastructure Hurdles
The adoption of smart meters in Nigeria has sparked a lively debate among industry experts and consumers alike. While the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has acknowledged improvements in the country’s metering and information technology infrastructure, the full deployment of smart meters still faces significant challenges. The core issue at hand is the state of Nigeria’s communication infrastructure, which is crucial for the successful implementation of smart meters.
As of Q1 2023, over 171,000 regular meters have been installed in the country, a promising sign of progress. However, the absence of smart metering technology hinders efficient resource allocation, the detection of power theft, and compromises the stability of the electricity grid. Experts in the electricity sector have expressed concerns that Nigeria is not fully prepared for universal smart metering due to the limitations in communication infrastructure.
A significant roadblock to universal smart meter adoption is the stance of local manufacturers who believe they should have a direct role in distributing smart meters to the general population. However, it’s important to note that smart meters manufactured in Nigeria may lack essential features needed to address specific challenges within the electricity sector.
Achieving 100% smart metering adoption in Nigeria is also contingent on having a smart national grid, which is not currently the primary focus of the sector, given the pressing immediate issues that need attention. The Energy Markets and Rates Consulting (EMRC) Limited reported in October 2023 that smart meters, substations, and appliances are fundamental components of a smart grid, capable of tracking the operations of systems connected to the grid and providing real-time data on all energy events.
To understand the smart metering debate, it’s crucial to grasp the key distinction between smart meters and regular meters—their communication capabilities. Smart meters have the ability to communicate through a dedicated communication module, facilitating remote and real-time reading of meter data, and allowing remote disconnection without a physical visit to the meter. This advanced technology extends beyond basic remote meter reading, encompassing IoT-based meters and devices.
However, a significant portion of meters manufactured in Nigeria faces limitations in remote communication due to insufficient network infrastructure, which can lead to inefficiencies and higher electricity tariffs for consumers. Collaborative efforts between NERC and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) are essential to establish a standardized Nigerian smart meter communication protocol or a dedicated communication frequency for smart metering devices.
Shola Ogunniyi, the Managing Director of Hacom Energy Limited, emphasized the importance of smart metering in the energy sector. He highlighted its ability to enable real-time monitoring and communication of electricity usage, offering consumers detailed insights and aiding in utilities’ resource management. However, challenges like low consumer purchasing power and telecom infrastructure limitations may hinder broad adoption.
In Q1 2023, the adoption of regular meters increased, with a total of 171,107 meters installed between January and March, representing a 3.95% increase compared to the previous quarter. The report also noted that 158,634 meters were installed under the Meter Asset Provider (MAP) intervention, and 9,931 meters were installed under the National Mass Metering Programme (NMMP) scheme.
Advocates for nationwide smart metering stress the need to expedite its implementation to avoid inefficient resource allocation, overloads during peak hours, and difficulties in identifying and addressing issues like power theft or technical faults. The lack of smart metering could impede the sector’s progress toward a more reliable, sustainable, and consumer-centric energy landscape.
Despite the potential benefits, smart metering involves substantial upfront and recurring expenses. Cost-benefit analyses must be conducted to ensure that distribution companies (DisCos) can realize the benefits and address the significant challenges posed by communication infrastructure limitations. From a cost-versus-benefit perspective, it may not be practical or prudent to adopt 100% smart metering in Nigeria at this stage.
In conclusion, Nigeria’s journey towards universal smart metering faces complex challenges, primarily stemming from communication infrastructure limitations. While the advantages of smart meters are evident, addressing the obstacles and conducting comprehensive cost-benefit analyses are crucial steps in determining the feasibility of widespread adoption. The debate continues as the energy sector grapples with how to provide more efficient, reliable, and consumer-friendly electricity services in Nigeria.