Strengthening utility operational efficiency through data analytics
Mwangi Chege, electrical engineer, describes how Kenya Power is using data analytics to improve performance, and shares his experience working with the Power Africa team.
Electricity utilities in East Africa are adapting to changing technical trends, higher target demands (mainly loss reduction and revenue increase targets), and increasing consumption from end-users as populations grow and economies develop.
However, many utilities struggle with a mixture of poor organizational structure, capacity and skills gaps, weak enforcement of policies and rules, and insufficient funding to address such challenges. Some utilities are adopting data analytics approaches to drive the changes needed to ensure financial viability.
For example, Power Africa is working with Kenya Power to use data analytics to transform utility operations and customer service, including “big data” analytics that have the potential to address and improve operational, strategic, financial, and other issues in the power sector.
Mwangi Chege, an electrical engineer at Kenya Power, describes how the utility is using data analytics to improve performance, and shares his experience working with the Power Africa team.
Q: What does data analytics entail?
A: We mine data from various company systems, databases and reports, then clean it and organize it to show trends that help in decision making. For instance, which feeder lines and substations to prioritize when allocating inspection teams.
Q: How has Kenya Power benefited from this data analytics approach?
A: Kenya Power boasts empowered teams able to analyze energy and revenue drifts. The data we collect can now be analyzed further to see trends and advise future decisions. These decisions include which type of customer is more likely to bypass a meter, types of meters more prone to tampering, how effective meter sealing is in controlling fraud etc. Additionally, Kenya Power’s processes are more efficient as a result of the new operating models in place.
Q: Has there been an impact on the customer as a result?
A: We have been able to resolve many anomalies to the delight of our customers. These include idle meters on customer premises, reported faulty meters that had not been replaced for long periods of time, and misallocation of meters leading to inaccurate billing.
Q: Tell us about your career journey — when and where did you start? How has this journey been especially with Kenya Power?
A: I graduated from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in 2012 after which I worked in a hotel as the head of operations and maintenance for three years. I joined Kenya Power in 2015 as the Engineer In-Charge of Customer Service in Narok county between 2017 and 2019. I then moved to the quality control section where I worked for six months before joining the Nairobi based security department in November 2019. It is in this role that I have been working with the Power Africa team for approximately nine months.
Q: What new skills have you acquired through your interaction with the Power Africa team?
A: I have acquired and sharpened my analytical, technical and managerial skills in energy loss management. Such skills include assessing the work done by teams, and accounting for resources deployed to teams that deal with energy loss management. Energy loss is the deficit between the electricity we purchase from generators and what we bill our customers.
Q: How has the approach to energy loss management and revenue loss reduction changed?
A: I am part of the Field Enforcement Unit (FEU), a specialized energy loss reduction unit conceptualized by the Power Africa team. The FEU is divided into four main groups. These are data analysts, installation inspectors, fall back team and security personnel. I serve in the security personnel group.
Being part of the FEU taught me a unique balance of teamwork and individual accountability since the objective of the unit was the same yet there was specialization and separation of duties. In addition, there were controls in place to track and monitor individual performance and its contribution to the overall success of the team.
Before the project, the person who identified an anomaly was the same person who would resolve it. FEU assigned different people to carry out the two roles. This heightened transparency and exposed areas of failure, inefficiency or lack of integrity. This was a great managerial lesson.
Q: What has been the biggest achievement so far in the collaborative work with Power Africa?
A: The ability to initiate and execute an operation seamlessly to its conclusion within the unit. This includes analysis, inspections, resolution of field anomalies, clean-up of system data, prosecution of fraudsters and recovery of lost energy.
We also achieved thoroughness in field work. It was not enough for an inspector to indicate an installation was okay, they also had to give more details on the installation such as location of the customer and the type of meter. Initially this looked like too much work, but I later appreciated the thoroughness of the approach since we ended up having a very rich database of findings.
Q: What has been unique about this particular partnership or collaboration with Power Africa?
A: I found the Power Africa team to be more hands-on. They participated actively even in field work.
Q: What is one thing that you will carry with you in your career path as a result of your experience with the Power Africa team?
A: There are quite a number of things. One is the knowledge of what to look for in relation to energy and revenue loss reduction and the skills [necessary to tackle those issues]. I now appreciate better the importance of energy loss reduction on the Company’s bottom line. I also acquired skills on project management.
Kenya Power and Power Africa continue to collaborate to improve service delivery in the Nairobi region, which has significant population density and several high-consumption industrial customers. Power Africa approaches utility strengthening through a diagnostic of commercial and technical operations, followed by on-the-ground training and implementation of turnaround measures to reduce losses and increase revenue. Power Africa embedded a utility-turnaround team in Kenya Power in 2019 to co-develop solutions that address commercial and technical operations, and that enhance revenue-protection and loss-recovery operations such as meter-reading process improvements and efficiency, billing processes and billing efficiency, and collection efficiency.