The potential of the Internet of Things (IOT) to make consumers’ lives more convenient is well-documented. One area in which it can deliver immediate benefits and significantly change how a household or company in Africa manages and keeps track of its energy use is smart metering.
Rather than rely on estimated energy use to calculate bills, or physically visit customers’ homes to take meter readings, a smart meter allows energy suppliers to have a real-time view of a household’s or business’ energy consumption – resulting in more accurate billing. Smart metering systems also open up opportunities for better management of the demand and supply of energy. Utilities can track energy which is stored and available for purchase for other players who are in demand. Today’s systems no longer rely on just fossil fuels, but also on renewable energy, that more and more parties produce and sell, when not using it for their own consumption.
Africa and the Middle East are now seen as the next frontier for the implementation of this technology. Africa, in particular, is experiencing massive population growth combined with growing economies in many countries. Electrification is obviously a key driver in this kind of development and, as with other technological implementations, Africa is in a position to adopt new technologies immediately because it has few legacies.
Figures from ABI Research support the view that Africa is beginning to leap onto the smart metering bandwagon. Figures show that smart meter shipments to the Africa/ Middle East region are predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 36.6 percent between 2011 and 2022. Revenues of companies involved in smart metering are set to grow by an equivalent 35.4 percent over the same period.
The installed base of smart meters with cellular connections will grow by 29.1 percent (GSM/ GPRS) and 71.2 percent (WCDKA), but off a very low base. As with any connected device, there are security considerations with smart metering. And since energy grids are critical national infrastructure, robust protection is paramount.
A highly-motivated cyber target
National energy infrastructure is a prime target for cyberattacks, and the consequences can be devastating. Black outs across entire countries, access to personal data and even to nuclear power plants make the smart energy ecosystem very attractive to cyber actors. Smart meters and smart grids present many potential routes of attack for criminals, which must be protected. This is why governments around the world are responding with initiatives that mandate specific protection protocols for smart grid deployments. Non-compliance could prevent access to the marketplace or lead to costly fines.
Smart meters have a long product lifecycle
Smart meters are not just installed for a couple of years and then updated – the intention is for them to last as long as 10-15 years. This means that advanced security processes need to be in place to replace ageing keys and to enable remote credential management, along with strong encryption and authentication tools to ensure that only authorized parties can access the energy assets and their data.
Smart meters can also be very difficult to access. Deployments are very wide – spread out over an entire country or even further – while the devices themselves are put into walls, behind locked doors or in physically remote locations such as mines or offshore sites. These make regular maintenance visits difficult, time consuming and costly. For these reasons, the ability to remotely monitor smart meters appear as crucial, to continuously protect the ecosystem in the long-run.
A dynamic market
Lastly, the energy market changes quickly. New entrants join the market frequently, while others disappear. The smart meter ecosystem has thus to be configured so that only authorized organizations and applications have access to metering data, and that changes to access can be applied instantaneously, whenever needed. As smart meter manufacturers might not be IoT security experts, partnering with digital security specialist firms can avoid putting AMIs (Advanced Metering Infrastructures) at risk.
It’s clear that the smart meter market is set to grow significantly across Africa in the near term. There are several market drivers behind this, such as theft and revenue protection, rising urbanization rates, improved operations among others. With this rise, comes the need for governments to understand end-to-end security of the smart energy ecosystem and the dedicated solutions available that provide encrypted keys and hardened key storage into smart meters – right from the manufacturing steps, as well as throughout the lifecycle of the smart meters.