Although it has not been billed as such by government, South Africa is inching ever loser to an energy crisis as a reliable and stable electrical network is still some distance from becoming a reality.

It’s one of the reasons why loadshedding has plagued the country for a number of years, and why it is already expected to continue for the next 18 months by Eskom.

It will no doubt form a key element for discussion at this week’s Africa Energy Indaba at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC). Speaking ahead of the event, Jonathan Duncan, Schneider Electric Anglophone Africa VP for the IT division, has weighed in on what the local electrical network is in dire need of.

The new challenge

According to Duncan much of our issues are the result of not properly investing int he digitisation of the network.

“South Africa needs to invest in digitisation of its electrical network before we can start realising the benefits of having accurate and up-to-date network usage information at our fingertips,” says Duncan.

“Being digitised and connected to intelligent devices on the electrical network is paramount to being able to monitor energy consumption and reduce energy waste,” he adds.

The VP notes that while new technologies bring benefits to the energy sector, they also invariably bring about new demands, which is something a strained system simply cannot handle at this stage. A potential solution to this problem lies in being able to more effectively monitor changes to the electrical network and react accordingly.

“As South Africa battles at local level with ‘last mile’ power distribution, an end-to-end monitoring solution is crucial if we want to see any return on investments into digitisation,” adds Duncan.

Making it smarter

Looking at what Schneider Electric brings to the table, Duncan says metering has a large role to play.

“A range of connected equipment can monitor and meter your power consumption, and valuable information can be gleaned from this,” he posits.

This as the ability to accurately and efficiently manage electricity becomes all the more important as it is a resource which has a limit, and therefore needs to be handled as such.

Added to this is data, the amount produced each day is increasing almost exponentially, and therefore requiring the correct technological tools to cut through the clutter and provide insight on the information which is system critical.

Using the example of an industrial environment, Duncan says we need to know where the energy is going and how much energy is going into each application to try to understand what is working most efficiently.

A failure to realise this and react accordingly could prove detrimental to the nation’s electrical network, he warns.

“Energy is finite. Unless we know how to be most efficient – through accurate measuring – we can’t keep demanding more and more energy,” stresses the VP.

The role of AI

Here he believes AI has a role to play, especially as it handle the massive task of processing and analysing the vast lakes of data that such a nationwide system would generate.

“Feeding data into a machine learning system, for example, could bring huge benefits to energy management through artificial intelligence,” he says. 

“AI can learn quickly and be highly accurate in its forecast, which will be ever improving. For me, AI is key in telling you different factors in whether we’re going to experience a grid overload. AI is probably the only way to properly manage these contributing factors,” concludes Duncan.