The adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies is driving a profound transformation in South Africa’s electro-mechanical equipment sector. This transformation is giving rise to smart grids and the optimisation of energy generation, distribution, and consumption. Key to this digital transformation is the demand for intelligent equipment capable of remote monitoring and control, ushering in unprecedented efficiency and resilience.

The uptake of digital transformation within the industrial sector has been rapid, with leading equipment manufacturers realising the importance of giving their equipment a “voice” through IoT. As a result, this sector is seeing a significant amount of development towards becoming smart by leveraging real-time data for condition monitoring. This is key to enhancing the performance and efficiency of equipment and enabling remote monitoring that benefits both the manufacturers and clients, as downtime can be prevented by tracking the health and other parameters of components and infrastructure.

Smart grids

Similarly, smart grids that leverage AI and IoT are capable of bringing numerous advantages to the country’s power system as they can monitor an entire electrical system in its totality. This can determine power losses, the best sources of generation at any given time and actual power consumption as data is logged in real time. Additionally, AI enables the generation of algorithms to optimise consumption, monitor production or generation and monitor theft, vandalism, and losses in the system. Smart grids can ultimately improve system performance, determine energy usage, monitor performance, and enable condition monitoring of equipment, among others.

However, amidst the local electro-mechanical equipment sector’s digital transformation, it must still ensure inclusivity and accessibility while embracing smart grids. Despite meeting the demands of digital transformation through the use of IoT devices and AI, there is huge potential within South Africa to equip people with the skills to deploy these new technologies, manufacture IoT devices, develop AI and programme and code the solutions for AI. Moreover, the country needs to move with the times and introduce these emerging technologies during early childhood development as part of school curriculums.

Yet, to ensure inclusivity and accessibility in adopting smart grid technologies across South Africa, the industry would have to overcome several challenges. These include resistance to change, the fear of losing jobs, South Africa’s current regulatory framework and pushback from labour unions. Additionally, Eskom could also prove to be a hurdle as it currently has a controlling stake in the generation and transmission grids without much competition in those sectors.

Economic and environmental benefits

Ultimately, transitioning to smart grids in South Africa could potentially yield numerous significant economic and environmental benefits. This is largely due to smart grid initiatives enabling increased energy efficiencies, reduced carbon emissions, greater grid reliability and reduced peak demands. Furthermore, smart grids can lower the costs of operational, maintenance and management resources. All of this would serve to bring down energy costs and usage.

Smart grids can also contribute to enhancing energy efficiency and resilience in the face of evolving energy demands and climate change, as they monitor real-time data, meaning they can enhance real-time interaction and interconnectivity between energy producers and energy consumers. This would optimise the usage of energy through improved automation and remote switching. In addition, smart grids can also monitor temperature, humidity, water content, illuminance and assist with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. This would be a significant positive step to combat climate change whilst improving energy efficiency.

Leading equipment manufacturers such as ACTOM are recognising the importance of developing intelligent solutions and the company has already commenced with adding condition monitoring capabilities to its equipment, as well as digital substation implementations.

Globally, the shift to smart grids is inevitable and moving at a very fast pace. As a country, South Africa cannot afford to be left behind, so we must make a head start and begin the transition to smart grids. This digital transformation which includes intelligent IoT devices and smart grids has the potential to ensure visibility and achieve greater efficiencies in our power management systems.

Sy Gourrah, Senior General Manager of Smart Technologies at ACTOM

By Admin