Joburg’s not-so-smart meters

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Johannesburg - The City of Joburg has installed 34 000 smart meters, but it seems in many areas they are not quite a smart as they were intended to be.

When the meters were installed in Kensington last year, residents believed their bills would no longer be based on inflated estimates and they wouldn’t have to worry about having strangers on their property to read the meters.

Residents now say that instead of reduced bills, many have seen steep increases and a local councillor has labelled the smart meters “a waste of money”.

But City Power insists the 34 000 they have installed are working just fine. Electricity smart meters are linked to computer systems with automated meter reading without visits to properties by technicians.

Director of engineering services at City Power Mdu Nzimande said the technology enables the city to relay critical information to residents’ houses and access factual information regarding their billing.

Kensington resident Adair Cross said the smart meters are “a complete waste of time and taxpayers’ money”. They are supposed to be read remotely, but that has never happened.

“Ever since mine was installed, they are still knocking at my door to read the meter.”

A Sydenham resident said she received an estimate based on her old meter, which is no longer installed and an estimated account of more than R3 000 for a household of two with no fancy appliances.

Nzimande said City Power was aware that some smart meters had problems, but he maintained that the majority installed were fully functional.

The smart meters are providing monthly data to their system on an automated basis.

“City Power launched an investigation which found that these technical hitches often occur in areas with a high density of installations where the Customer Interface Units (CIUs) lose communication with the meters.

“We then installed antennas in these areas to support communication with the CIUs.”

Cross added that because there was no longer a meter reading schedule, contractors arrived when no one was home and they made estimations – this resulted in the huge bills.

She said residents were not benefiting from the smart meters roll-out, which was part of a City Power R1.25 billion expenditure on the project.

To date, Nzimande said more than 12 000 have been installed for Large Power Users and 22 000 to the residences of of Johannesburg.

He insisted that the meter data collection and management software was fully operational and had been properly integrated with the relevant billing systems.

Other Kensington residents, however, begged to differ.

Ralf Meysel said: “My electricity bill has doubled since they installed the smart meter.”

Another resident Amelia Theron said she was not sure if her meter was read by the council because no one did physical readings. She had also received a “very high” electricity bill this month.

The smart meters were said to record consumption in intervals of an hour or less and communicate that information to the utility at least once a day for monitoring and billing.

Carlos da Rocha, ward 66 councillor for Kensington, said the system was not working smoothly, adding that none of the meters he had seen were manufactured in South Africa.

City Power is in process of installing an additional 50 000 smart meters by next month, as part of the first phase of the roll-out, which would be completed by October next year.

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