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Massive interest in Lagos smart meter hackathon validates local content – Odusote

OLALERE ODUSOTE, Lagos commissioner for energy and mineral resources in an interview with JOSHUA BASSEY and ISAAC ANYAOGU, explained how the state in partnership with Eko Innovation Centre, is promoting efforts to provide affordable electricity meter to the populace by facilitating a meter design hackathon to improve energy distribution, monitoring and preventing revenue leakage. The project has recorded massive interest among meter manufacturers, financiers and tech enthusiasts in the state.

Please throw more light on what the Lagos Smart Metering Project is meant to achieve

We had several engagements with participants in the sector and we have looked at the energy sector value chain and participants, for example, we have about 13,000MW of generation available to come into the market.

On the transmission side, depending on who you ask, we have up to 9,000MW capacity available energy to the market and on the distribution side we have about 4,500MW of capacity to distribute. So we have realised that the bottleneck in the sector is actually the distribution side, upon further interrogation, we realised that in many areas of Lagos, what customers complain about is estimated billing.

Some people like estimated billing but a lot of people don’t like it; they talk about ‘crazy’ bills and over billing. The DisCos have also complained that in some areas where they have a high preponderance of estimated billing, the customers don’t pay.

So what the Lagos State governor has said, in his wisdom, is that as much as possible let us try to meter all Lagosians over the next four years.

The Discos have said that it is their desire to meter everyone so that they can capture all their customers and then all of the negative publicity they get from people complaining about over billing can go away. We think it makes sense, if we are going to be a 21st century economy, let’s start to make sure to be fair to people in Lagos.

On the campaign trail there were two big issues that Lagosians had; it was traffic and lack of constant supply of electricity. So instead of putting up big electricity projects that may or may not be completed, let’s target where the problems are, invest in those areas because it is our job to solve problems. So we said, let’s intervene in the area of electricity meters. We looked at what the NERC regulations said; the prices of electricity meters and it seemed like another hurdle because to get a single phase meter you have to pay at least N44,000 and if you can’t afford it, that has deferred the dream.

Read also: Sanwo-Olu, Amaechi visit scene of Lagos train accident

So as Lagos State government, we said why can’t we just harness the creativity and the talent that exists within Nigeria to create a local solution. Now, we say there are a lot of graduates that come out without jobs, how are we interesting them in the sector because what we found out is that it is not getting a job that creates wealth, it is solving problems that people have. Why can’t we channel their talent into productive use and one of the first things we did was telling them to come and design a solution for the electricity sector. If you look at a lot of the billionaires we have today, they started from their garages. Anybody who designs a meter today might decide to create other things. In this case, we want to see if we can solve a real problem we have now, instead of N44,000, if we can create a meter that is of standards at half the cost, so everybody can buy, not just for Lagos, but Nigeria as a whole.

What progress has been recorded thus far?

Since we opened the meter portal, we have seen more than 51 hardware teams that have registered and 58 software teams have registered to participate in the hackaton. In fact, 11 teams have submitted their prototype designs and 9 teams on the software side have submitted their designs. So we have already started to have some sort of engagement with people.

Now this is being done in two groups: Someone will design a meter, somebody else will design the software that will interface with the meter, generate invoices and also provide tokens that can load the meter.

We are expecting at the end of the day to select a winning team: software and hardware winner and then put them together to share their AGIS and give us a solution that works for Lagos to start with. If it works for Lagos, it can work for Nigeria.

We think it can work. Kenya created an LPG solution that China is buying today, so there is nothing that says we can’t take meters to China from where we import most of our products today.

What are you thinking in terms of mass producing and funding?

The metering gap in Lagos is estimated between 600,000 to one million and when we started, we had a roll-out plan. We had identified production partners in China, they were going to go to China for 30 days and sit with production partners in China and ensure we turned the ideas into products that can be mass produced. Then we were going to bring them back to Nigeria, test them and then license the production to existing manufacturing lines in Nigeria.

The intention was also to look for ways to domesticating the production of the components in Nigeria because right now the ecosystem cannot support anything you want to manufacture for the most part. We looked at all the components that are needed and then asked what can be produced locally immediately and what cannot be produced locally immediately and then come up with a system to transferring the capacity to Nigeria – that was the plan.

Since COVID-19 happened we decided not to do that again. We decided to find ways to mass produce the meters in Nigeria rather than going abroad to China. At first with COVID-19 in China we decided to go to India later we realised that may be it is a stroke of luck, rather than going to abroad to find partners, let’s look at how it can be done locally.

Today we have meter manufacturers in Nigeria come to us and say we like what you are doing, let’s see how we can work together. So not only are meter manufacturing plants in Nigeria are talking to us, we are looking to see how we can expand that to come up with energy park in Lagos where we can encourage component providers to come and domesticate their production so that we can really have a made- in- Nigeria product. We have a land and a plan for an energy park already. We are looking at two separate locations for now. We haven’t decided on what the locations are going to be. We might decide to expand it and domesticate it there and we have people come to say let’s expand it to an energy city.

We are going ahead with the metering; we already have partners that can assemble the meters.

In terms of finance, a number of financial institutions are already talking to us in terms of how to raise financing locally, but we haven’t signed anything with anyone yet.

Some embeded power projects in Lagos have stalled, are you going to continue with them or start fresh ones?

We are continuing with them. We don’t believe in starting things all over again, if it makes sense, we continue with it. The government of Mr Babajide Sanwo-olu is big on solving problems. Give me the solutions that can work. Don’t give me solutions that I can write my name rather than what works. I want to see it working.

We are not going to build a power plant that will be sitting down there and not producing anything which he can put his name on it. The existing utilities will have to demand for power before we look at solving that for them. So is there space for power plants being built in Lagos? Yes, today, Lagos and indeed all of Nigeria rely on the grid. The grid has failed a few times and when it failed there’s no power so you have to fall back on your house to make a lot of noise with your own IPP, create your own power. Once the grid says to us we will have to load shed this area at this time or the grid will collapse, that power plant comes on and satisfy the demand of that area identified. Now, not everybody can afford that sort of backup solution. So we are looking for different solutions that work for different areas based on the pricing and reliability.

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