Benefits and challenges of ECG prepaid metering
Prepaid metering or smart metering is the means of paying for electricity before its consumption.
In this regard, the energy in monetary terms is bought by the customer at the revenue point of the Electricity Company of Ghana(ECG) or from a private vendor and loaded onto a magnetic chip or infrared remote which is subsequently loaded, swiped or inserted into the prepaid meter for the consumer to enjoy electricity supply.
The introduction of the electricity pre-paid metering in 1996 was done to deal with the challenges associated with the credit or postpaid metering system.
However, there is a general assumption among customers that the prepaid electricity meters introduced by ECG to replace the post-paid metering system in most urban areas has benefited the utility provider (ECG) rather than its customers.
Benefits of prepaid metering system
One of the foremost benefits of the prepaid metering system is its ability to readily make available funds at the disposal of the utility supplier (ECG). Hitherto, the post-paid metering system was bedevilled with accounts receivable or low revenue collection.
Research has revealed that only 30 per cent of customers who use post-paid metering system pay willingly while the remaining 70 per cent will have to be informed through notices of bills, announcement on radio and television, as well as public address system and finally the unpleasant tool of disconnection, before bills are settled.
This practice was a drain on the resources of the utility supplier. Looking back at the post-paid metering system, one will glaringly observe that problems of estimated bills, customers being debtors in ECG books, errors in billing, disconnection of supply and non-access to the customer’s premises were all challenges inherent in the post-paid metering system. Fortunately, the prepaid metering system is devoid of such problems.
The introduction of prepaid metering has enabled the ECG to invest in important projects such as the face-lifting of regional offices and in some instances putting up new regional offices, in our operational areas, even though only a paltry five to six per cent of ECG customers are connected to prepaid meters.
This is to imply that if a deliberate and conscious effort is made to increase the number of customers who are connected to prepaid meters, there will be a significant improvement in the quality of electricity to customers.
No wonder there has been a government directive to change all meters at ministries, departments and agencies (MDA) to prepaid meters. This step, when adhered to religiously will reduce the debt profile of these institutions.
However the decision to increase the number of prepaid customers should be backed with constant monitoring in order to deter customers from tampering with the meters. In fact, customers who are found culpable of such illegal acts should be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others.
Another important benefit of the funds that accrue to the utility provider is the ploughing back of such funds into the improvement of our operations such as the building of new primary sub-stations in some of our operational areas.
Special mention can be made of the Gbawe-Jaman sub-station, Awudome sub-station, Shia-shi Sub-station near the Tetteh Quarshie Interchange, Elmina sub-station, Darkuman sub-station and the upgrading of the Winneba sub-station.
Employment avenues created by the introduction of the prepaid metering system cannot be underestimated, the contracting of private vendors to sell ECG’s prepaid units in all regional capitals, the use of private companies to work on faults in respect of prepaid meters gives employment to the youth. The installation of prepaid meters is also done by private companies contracted by the ECG. All these are employment avenues created by the introduction of prepaid meters into ECG’s operations.
The ability of these meters to reduce the level of meter tampering that leads to revenue loss is a significant improvement in our quest to reduce losses.
This is so because this type or installation is done on the service poles with the mains connected to the meter while the output goes to the customer’s premises. In fact, this system has only the load going to the customer’s premises.
There is an interesting revelation that points to the fact that in areas where ECG has deployed these prepaid meters, the network has been improved to forestall voltage problems in order for the meters to work perfectly.
Energy conservation habits have also been seen as a practice that is catching up with customers who are connected to the prepaid meters.
Obviously, once customers commit money to the use of energy before its use, the tendency for them to make judicious use of their units as compared to customers connected to the post-paid metering system is greater.
Challenges of prepaid metering system
Unfortunately, the prepaid metering system has not been smooth sailing despite the benefits that are associated with it. These challenges come in different forms ranging from customer care to technical challenges.
Intermittent Internet breakdowns have been one of the banes of the prepaid metering system. Anytime there is a breakdown in the Internet connectivity customers will have to spend long hours at private-vending points and ECG revenue collection centres in long, winding queues.This occurrence leads to revenue loss and increases, among other things.
Again, customers who are connected to the prepaid meters also experience voltage problems as electricity supply is cut off at the slightest voltage hikes or drop in voltage levels. This is a great worry to customers of prepaid metering since those connected to the post-paid metering are free from such voltage problems.
However, it should be noted that the prepaid meter has been programmed to be sensitive to voltage drops and hikes in order not to plunge the customers’ appliances and installations into technical problems such as burnt appliances and meter burns during power surges.