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Africa and the Middle East are now seen as the next frontier for the implementation of smart metering technology, according to Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President Internet of Things (IOT) for CISMEA region at Gemalto. “Africa, in particular, is experiencing massive population growth combined with growing economies in many countries. Electrification is obviously a key driver in this kind of development and, as with other technological implementations, Africa is in a position to adopt new technologies immediately because it has few legacies,” he says.

Sherry Zameer GemaltoFigures from ABI Research support the view that Africa is beginning to jump on to the smart metering bandwagon. Figures show that smart meter shipments to the Africa/Middle East region are predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 36.6% between 2011 and 2022. Revenues of companies involved in smart metering are set to grow by an equivalent 35.4% over the same period.

The installed base of smart meters with cellular connections will grow by 29.1% (GSM/ GPRS) and 71.2% (WCDKA), but off a very low base. As with any connected device, there are security considerations with smart metering. And since energy grids are critical national infrastructure, robust protection is paramount, Zameer says.

“National energy infrastructure is a prime target for cyber attacks, and the consequences can be devastating. Black outs across entire countries, access to personal data, and even to nuclear power plants, make the smart energy ecosystem very attractive to cyber actors. Smart meters and smart grids present many potential routes of attack for criminals, which must be protected. This is why governments around the world are responding with initiatives that mandate specific protection protocols for smart grid deployments. Non-compliance could prevent access to the marketplace or lead to costly fines.”

Zameer points out that smart meters are not just installed for a couple of years and then updated – the intention is for them to last as long as 10 to 15 years. This means that advanced security processes need to be in place to replace ageing keys and to enable remote credential management, along with strong encryption and authentication tools to ensure that only authorised parties can access the energy assets and their data.

“Smart meters can also be very difficult to access. Deployments are very wide – spread out over an entire country or even further – while the devices themselves are put into walls, behind locked doors or in physically remote locations such as mines or offshore sites. These make regular maintenance visits difficult, time consuming and costly. For these reasons, the ability to remotely monitor smart meters is crucial, to continuously protect the ecosystem in the long-run,” he adds.

“Lastly, the energy market changes quickly. New entrants join the market frequently, while others disappear. The smart meter ecosystem has thus to be configured so that only authorised organisations and applications have access to metering data, and that changes to access can be applied instantaneously, whenever needed. As smart meter manufacturers might not be IoT security experts, partnering with digital security specialist firms can avoid putting AMIs (Advanced Metering Infrastructures) at risk.”

Governments need to understand end-to-end security of the smart energy ecosystem and the dedicated solutions available that provide encrypted keys and hardened key storage into smart meters – right from the manufacturing steps, as well as throughout the lifecycle of the smart meters, Zameer concludes.

Image credit: https://gemalto.africa-newsroom.com/press/media/securing-the-smart-energy-revolution-in-africa?lang=en?display=image

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