Cape Town - 121022 - South African power utility Eskom has applied to more than double the price of its electricity over the next five years. The state-owned utility said it has applied for a 16 percent annual increase for five years from April 2013 to March 2018. Many South Africans are struggling with the current cost of electricity. Pictured is teacher Michael Guzana with his son Hluma Guzana. Reporter: Yolisa Tswana PICTURE: SUPPLIED

Johannesburg - No electricity meter readers will be employed by the City of Joburg by 2015 – thanks to City Power’s smart meter and prepaid meter programme.

Over the next three years, the power utility will install smart meters in Joburg residents’ homes.

City of Joburg spokesman Gabu Tugwana said 2015 was the targeted date for the completion of the project.

“This means that at the end of the project, City Power consumers will be serviced by either conventional pre-paid meters or by smart meters.

“We have about 12 000 large power users on automated meter reading, but this is now being extended,” he said.

Electricity meter readings have long been a source of strife for residents, some of whom have found themselves facing massive bills if the meters are misread.

The rollout could also spell the end of the city’s billing crisis.

All your questions answered

What are smart meters?

Also known as advanced metering infrastructure, they are electricity meters that link your house or business toa computer system at City Power. With this system, the automated meter reading reflects the exact amount of electricity used during a particular period.

How is that different tomy current meter?

Unlike your current meter, the smart meter can be read remotely. This means meter readers will not have to physically access your property and meter to take a reading.

How do they work?

Smart meters use the GPRS network for communication. This minimises communication costs compared to GSM, and avoids the use of SIM cards, which can be tampered with or stolen. The meters also support several other features that help to minimise electricity consumption, such as load management. This allows the device to shift away electricity loads during peak periods and to restrict customers’ electricity use during periods of supply constraints.

Who WILL get the meters?

The initial phase will be for customers who use more than 1 000kW of power. (That’s enough power to run 1 000 1kW microwave ovens.)

And if I don’t use that much?

City Power plans to have every household and business premises in the city on smart meters or pre-paid meters by 2015. The full rollout plan is being devised and will be communicated to residents when it is complete.

When it’s my turn, how long will installation take?

On average the meter installation should take no longer than an hour, so it’s unlikely that you will have to take the day off work.

Do I have to pay to haveit installed?

No. The meters will be provided and installed at the city’s cost.

What are the benefitsfor me?

Consumption will be monitored in real time so you should get accurate bills.

You won’t have to deal with estimated readings.

You will be able to send SMSes, for example, about power interruptions and request your consumption information, which will also give you the monetary value of your consumption.

And for large power users, like factories, residential complexes and shopping malls?

These users will also be ableto view their consumption statistics in real time on a dedicated web portal.

Are they tamper proof?

The smart meter is installed with an alarm that will go off if there is any tamperingor illegal activities with the power supply, such as theft of electricity or cables, or illegal connections.

What benefits are there for City Power?

Smart meters contribute to the stability of electricity supply as they send an alarm as soon as power is lost or interrupted.

This means unplanned power interruptions can be detected immediately, leading to quicker response and shorter power restoration times.

City Power will have the ability to send SMSes to consumers to notify them of power interruptions, request them to reduce consumption, or to send them billing-related information.

The meter can be configured for different consumption periods, such as peak and off-peak. These tariffs will help to shift consumption away from peak periods, when the most strain is placed on the grid.

Will the tariffs remain the same?

City Power is considering implementing time-of-use tariffs at a later date, but this has to be done in consultation with the National Energy Regulator of South Africa. This means that there will be lower or higher tariffs during certain times of the day.

But this isn’t the first time smart meters have been introduced. There were problems in Blairgowrie, for example.

You are right. Hefcom smart meters were installed in Blairgowrie in 2008/9, but residents still got inflated, incorrect bills.

In addition, the meters’ signals interfered with remotes for gates, cars and home alarm systems.

So what is stopping this from happening with the new meters?

The Independent Communications Authorityof South Africa probed the Blairgowrie complaints and found that a rogue signal was interfering with the signal used by the meters. Manufacturers of smart meters can now get their own licensed frequency to prevent outside interference taking place, which Hefcom did, and no further problems have been experienced.

The Star