SparkMeter Summary

SparkMeter offer a low-cost metering solution for mini-grids and central utilities, allowing them to customise tariffs, manage demand, reduce theft and offer pay-as-you-use services. This improves both viability and ability to scale.

Market Need

Lack of energy is a major barrier to economic growth. Over two billion people worldwide live without reliable access to electricity. And it is estimated that population growth of 1.3% per year is outpacing the rate of electrification at 1.2% per year.  

While energy providers such as mini-grid operators and utilities are making efforts to bring electricity to off-the-grid and under-the-grid communities, they face significant technical and commercial challenges. Many utility companies in emerging markets lose up to 50% of revenues due to electricity theft.*     

Most off-grid operations are managed ‘manually’ by on-site staff without real-time data on energy demand. This makes them prone to power outages when there is too much load, and vulnerable to revenue loss due to theft, non-payment or fraud during payment collection. Without operational data and the ability to manage multiple systems remotely, rural utilities struggle to raise the investment needed to grow.

One of the major bottlenecks to serving low-income consumers is the lack of low-cost smart meters designed for emerging markets. Without this, energy providers are unable to efficiently bill, collect money, diagnose problems, identify electricity theft, or manage demand and pricing.

 


What is a smart meter?


Smart meters are an advanced energy meter that record and send information about energy consumption and power quality to the energy provider. They can use various communications technologies, including mobile phone networks and radio frequency mesh networks, to send accurate real-time meter readings and receive commands from the utility.  Smart meters can also be used to provide energy on a pre-paid basis, making them ideal for low-income energy markets.

 


In 2014, Factor(E) Ventures, an SF partner, identified SparkMeter’s prototype as a truly disruptive solution that could unlock the potential for energy providers in emerging markets. Over 12 months, Factor(E) worked closely with the SparkMeter team to de-risk and validate the technology, and in 2015 Shell Foundation partnered with SparkMeter to co-create the business model and bring their innovation to the market. 
 *http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTESC/Resources/Background_paper_Reducing_losses_in_the_power_sector.pdf

Business Model

SparkMeter has pioneered a low-cost metering technology that can be integrated with any utility or mini-grid system. This gives energy providers in emerging markets an unprecedented ability to effectively manage the supply and demand of energy, create tariff plans and collect payments digitally from customers. Compared to metering solutions in developed energy markets, SparkMeter has been able to bring a similar level of technical sophistication and functionality, but at 10% of the cost.  
 
To date, SparkMeter has helped energy providers bring 75 MWh of reliable and affordable electricity to consumers in nine countries.

How does SparkMeter's solution work?

Rural utilities install smart meters either at each customer building, clustered, or on a utility pole. Using cloud-based software SparkMeter then provide energy providers with the necessary data on how to effectively manage their grid. This has several benefits:

First, it provides more efficient billing and collection: Low-income customers can purchase energy credit by cash at a local retailer or with mobile money. Then through a wireless mesh network, the meter is updated to provide the customer with access to power.  This avoids potential tampering which can occur with other pre-pay methods and allows customers to only pay for the energy they use (while guaranteeing payment for the utility). 

Second, it enables demand management and dynamic pricing: Energy providers can remotely monitor the supply and demand to provide continuous reliable power.  This also gives utilities the flexibility to change pricing structures and offer tiered, time-of-use, or fully customised tariffs that can evolve over time.  Updates to tariffs can be pushed instantly over the air to thousands of customers. Also load limits can be adjusted by the utility to ensure that total customer consumption never exceeds the total available capacity, which greatly improves reliability. For customers, this ensures they are paying the ‘best tariff’ based on their usage and they can still consume as much power as they need without affecting the supply of power

Finally, it provides early diagnosis of problems and theft. By comparing power consumption from individual meters to the electricity being distributed, SparkMeter can identify when and where power is unexpectedly leaving the system. This makes theft detection at an individual household possible and acts as an effective deterrent.

In addition, SparkMeter provides a full range of services to support their customers such as: remote and in-person training to install and use their system, consulting advice (on micro-grid planning, tariffs, business models and financial models) and project management assistance for micro-grid implementation.

Future Plans

With SF’s support, SparkMeter launched four meters in 2017 that meet a range of power requirements, from an ultra-low cost 5 Amp meter suitable for micro-grid operators serving residential customers (providing power for small appliances such as lights, radios, and TVs) to a 60 Amp meter for mini-grid customers with higher levels of consumption and central grids.

SparkMeter will also enhance their metering software, adding advanced controls and analytical tools.  They aim to install over 1 million meters by 2020.

Back to Access To Energy

Subscribe to the Shell Foundation newsletter

Subscribe to this report