Prepaid electric meter promises fail to deliver

Updated at 12:47am on September 10, 2018

THE government’s decision to introduce prepaid electric meters on a wide scale is a commendable move, considering the magnitude of systems loss of about 13 per cent and uncontrolled consumption by users, especially at peak hours. Prepaid meters in the power sector have so far, however, failed to live up to promises. Prepaid meter users keep facing hassles standing in long queues for hours to recharge their power cards amidst a shortage of recharge points. More than 1.5 million prepaid meter users suffer because of technical glitches and limited logistics. Because of tge shortage of recharging facilities, users have wait in long queues hours. More often than not, servers of the prepaid power meter systems, as customers complain, remains down. On such occasions, users are deprived of electricity in their respective establishment. For a majority of the customers, rent fee for digital meter is an added financial burden. Drawing from customers’ experience, it will not be mistaken to suggest that the government has taken a right direction to minimise systems loss in the power sector; it, however, did so without a well worked plan and adequate infrastructure.
In the past few years, the government has increased power tariff a number of times on grounds that power generation has become costlier. Consumer rights groups criticised the government’s decision and urged the authorities concerned to plug the leaks in the distribution system to save cost before going for such tariff raises. The government has so far managed load through power outages instead of curbing systems loss, including pilferage. It is in this context that the government’s decision to introduce digital prepaid power meters is considered a good step as it could possibly streamline technical losses at the power plants and in transmission and distribution lines. There is 5-7 per cent more losses due to non-technical reasons at the customer level such as tampering with meters and illegal connections. Admittedly, a big chunk of electricity that the companies generate is lost or remains unaccounted for in various ways. A proper implementation of prepaid meter system could partially address such problems both at the Power Division and the customer end. Managing load, combating theft, controlling peak-hour consumption and simplifying bill collection apart, prepaid meters have also the potential to benefit the consumers through stopping inflated or ghost bills.
According to data of six distribution companies, there are 1,584,454 prepaid electric meters. However, there are not an adequate number of recharging facilities and the ones that exist are often dysfunctional. The authorities concerned must, therefore, address this constraints that customers face while using the digital meters. They government must also consider keeping the cost of the meters within the buying power of ordinary consumers.