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Utility firms accused of locking out local smart meter makers



 Africa Smart Meter Association Secretary General James Ngomeli. [Macharia Kamu, Standard]

Local firms producing smart meters used by utility companies have decried being sidelined by State agencies when procuring the gadgets in favour of imports.

Through their lobby, the Africa Smart Meter Association, the assemblers and manufacturers of meters that are largely targeted at Kenya Power and water companies, claim that tenders for procurement of meters appear to be designed to lock them out despite the availability of technical capabilities in Kenya. 

ASMA noted that this was a key contributor to the losses that the utilities incur as they go for lengthy periods without metering new consumers. Some of the new customers end up being connected irregularly and use their services without paying.

“Legal disputes related to tenders for electric meters have been a thorn in the flesh in Kenya and across Africa. Every big tender for meters in Kenya has found its way to courts, which has resulted in major delays in metering and revenue collection,” said ASMA Secretary General James Ngomeli.

“The current scenario of high commercial losses in Kenya Power can be attributed to some extent emanated from the two-year delay in the metering of consumers.”

Technical losses in the power sector, a combination of commercial and transmission, stand at 22.4 per cent while it is much higher for the water sector, with ASMA estimating that this stands at 45 per cent. 

“With Kenya’s technology level, it is disheartening to see very little goodwill to enhance local production,” said Ngomeli. 

“We have seen the development of concrete poles manufacturing and building of local capacities; why is the metering sub-sector not getting these kinds of incentives? We believe that developing local capabilities and opportunities in meter production is the way to address these recurrent issues.” 

He added that while the industry has the capacity to produce quality metres, which it has demonstrated in the instances it has worked with utilities both in water and energy, there is still a high preference for imports, many of which don’t create employment nor transfer technology and failure rates without recourse. 

“The country requires over seven million meters both in the energy and water sectors. The water sector is also plagued with so many brands of imported meters that are of low capabilities and can’t transmit data and hence can’t scale up, leading to the failure of water companies to collect revenue, of which they lose over 45 per cent of it despite considerable investments in metering.”

He added that with the local capacity that Kenya has, it can emerge as a hub for smart meter production in Africa as we strongly advocate for half of the consignment must be manufactured locally to boost investment in these capabilities.

“We are willing to work with all stakeholders and achieve the goal of ‘Made in Kenya’ smart meters. With the capacity that ASMA members in Kenya have and considering the growing demand for smart meters in the region, we can make Kenya a hub for products of smart meters,” said Ngomeli.

“Already ASMA has opened discussions with the Ministry of Energy and Ministry of Trade and Industry since last year but these need to be accelerated and barriers removed without further delays.”

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