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Metering in West Africa

President Chirac of France recently said that in order to bring peace to West Africa, it is necessary to understand the soul and spirit of the region. This statement also holds good for the electricity supply industry. There are profound differences in culture between Anglophone and Francophone countries, and indeed between countries speaking the same language. Attempts to merely plug in solutions which have been successful in their country of origin are unlikely to work here.

Developments in metering depend to a large extent on broader developments in the industry. There has recently been a resurgence of interest in the West African Power Pool (WAPP). Implementation of this project, which will provide enhanced interconnection between participating countries, will result in a vast improvement in available power. The industry has been characterised by shortages of supply, low levels of electrification and revenue collection, and ongoing management problems – and the result is that utilities have not had the resources to maintain or expand their networks.

In an attempt to improve this situation the multilateral lending agencies have provided strong incentives for the letting of management contracts and concessions. These have had limited success, mainly because of the inability of the con-cessionaire to raise the finance required. Borrowers have to provide evidence of an effective revenue collection system, which has not been possible.

There is, however, a definite shift towards market-based operation in the larger countries in the region, but there is no grid metering infrastructure to ensure accurate measurement of power across boundaries. There has been a gradual shift in most countries from electromechanical to electronic meters for consumers. Many pilot prepayment metering projects have been implemented, varying from one- way token based systems to two-way systems involving smart cards to full AMR systems using radio as a communication medium. Large scale prepayment implementation is, however, hampered because of several factors:

  • High capital cost
  • Incompatibility between systems
  • Poor network and building infrastructure.

Given the constraints listed above, it is difficult to visualise large scale implementation of prepayment in this region at present. The roll out of GPRS on the GSM networks would go a long way to reducing costs of vending infrastructure, but meter manufacturers do need to be innovative in reducing meter and related system costs. The availability of an integrated prepayment metering system at an attractive price and built to withstand the difficult environment will without doubt find an insatiable market in West Africa.