Load shedding is a term that has become much too familiar to South Africa. It seems that we can’t even go through one week without power outages. In exciting news, however, Eskom has announced they will ramp up their demand side management (DSM) initiatives with the intention of better managing the supply and demand of electricity in South Africa. One of the most notable initiatives is the rollout of smart meters, which could drastically reduce the frequency of load shedding.
What are Smart Meters and How Do They Help?
Smart meters are updated electricity management systems for both residential and commercial properties. They help monitor and measure the amount and time of electricity usage and deduct the consumed energy from a prepaid balance supplied by the customer. In addition to providing a more accurate measurement of electricity usage and time of consumption, smart meters provide information about the peak times of energy consumption, enabling policymakers to manage demand on the grid.
The rollout of smart meters in South Africa presents a lot of opportunities for the country. According to Edison Makwarela, Eskom’s chief engineer, the meters that can be controlled remotely to manage electricity demand and supply present a lot of opportunities in the country. With the role out of smart meters, Eskom says the effective implementation of DSM could create a win-win situation for consumers and energy producers. Not only will the DSM program reduce pressure on the national power system, but it will also enable consumers to save costs by being more energy conscious.
South Africa’s Push for Smart Meters
Currently, major metros such as Johannesburg and Tshwane have already embarked on converting meters. In 2023, they are planning to update their prepaid electricity meters. Tshwane is going a step further by moving all customers, residential and commercial, to a prepaid system as part of a multi-year project. By moving everyone to a prepaid system, the risk of electricity theft reduces while encouraging people to conserve energy.
Eskom says that a by-product of installing smart meters is that it also reduces electricity theft. Eliminating or limiting electricity theft could reduce national load shedding by a whole stage. The current prepaid voucher system, known as the Standard Transfer Specification (STS), is nearing the end of its lifespan and will no longer produce voucher sequences after November 24, 2024.
Finally, it’s worth noting that DSM isn’t a South African concept. As Eskom Chairperson Mpho Makwana stressed, it’s a global phenomenon. Best-in-class countries already use technology to manage demand, and the policy measures in place can be replicated around the world. Eskom’s announcement that they will ramp up their DSM initiatives is a step in the right direction that could lead to permanent solutions to South Africa’s load shedding.
Stay informed, South Africa. There may be a brighter energy future on the horizon.