Prepaid metering as a remedial mechanism for improved electricity
By Carl Umegboro
Inarguably, electricity customers have never gotten a fair deal from the distribution companies (DisCos) in Nigeria, instead outrageous bills have remained their lot. The service providers every now and then freely bombard the electricity consumers with outrageous bills even without services rendered. It doesn’t matter to them if the customer didn’t use any electricity for months probably the customer toured abroad or kept apartment under lock and key. It therefore implies that presently, all that is required for the service providers to be hitting jackpots from their vulnerable customers is only to be connected to its grid; supply or not immaterial. And failure to pay their arbitrarily and outrageous bills subjects the customers to embarrassing disconnections. Still, even when on the disconnection, bills continue to accumulate for the customers.
In most cases, the bills are strategically, mischievously overestimated aimed at putting customers in perpetual debt bondage such that they would always have outstanding. Then, each time some of the workforce are broke particularly during festive seasons; Easter, Sallah and Christmas or personal engagements like parties, naming ceremonies, burial etc, harassing the vulnerable customers over outstanding with ladders for informal settlement becomes a viable option. Sometimes, a room apartment or mini-shop gets as much as N25,000 as monthly consumption bill whether power was supplied or not. Some apartments get as much as N120, 000 as monthly consumption bills. Some even get over N1, 500,000 unjustifiably as bill. And where the customer struggled and paid all, he gets increment in the following bills such that outstanding must exist for selfish interests someday.
The ugly implication of the anomalies is that the arbitrary bills embolden the service providers to relax and remain unproductive since services rendered do not determine earnings but indiscriminate billing system. The glitch encourages laxity as come rain – come shine, customers must pay bills outrageously. It implies that where as little as feeder pillar in the transformer or other accessories required replacement, the service provider may not bother as its earnings are not determined by services rendered as would be the case under a prepaid metering system. On account of this, a whole community over time had been abandoned in blackout as long as the DisCo wished despite the fact they ought to generate their incomes from services rendered to the communities. Unfortunately, only prepaid metered customers pay accurately for services rendered while DisCos overbearingly exploit helpless customers on estimation, sadly in majority.
Prepaid metering system therefore provides an effective mechanism for boosting electricity supplies in the country as the device makes it absolute that only services rendered are paid for. As a matter of fact, federal government has no business banning importation of generators into the country but ensure that all electricity consumers are prepaid metered on pay-as-you-use basis. The estimated billing system whether outrageous or underestimated constitutes threats to economic growth and productivity as it unconsciously provides avenues for exploitation. Every economy grows when citizens and services users pay accurately for services rendered to them. And essentially, it brings some disciplines and accountability thereby eliminates avoidable wastages.
For example, the number of prepaid metered customers that leave power running when away or not needed have drastically reduced if at all they still exist when comparable to those on estimation. The implication of prudently managing the use of electricity is that a lot of energy will be saved for those that actually have good need of them. From a practical study, all the electric lights and gadgets unnecessarily switched-on during the day when not useful are not connected to prepaid metering system. It is therefore imperative that while federal government continues in its onerous drive towards boosting sustainable power generation for the country, a viable mechanism to judiciously manage and checkmate the ones already generated for optimal use is put in place through prepaid meters. Until all electricity consumers are regulated digitally through prepaid metering systems, loss and waste of energy will continue unabated and supply remains inadequate.
The key benefits of the prepaid metering system are emphatically tripartite in nature. Prepaid metering system automatically creates a responsibility and efficiency chain starting from consumers – distribution – generation. For instance, aside making all consumers to strictly and accurately pay for services used, it automatically propels DisCos to go extra miles towards improving in their services to ensure steady supply knowing that no income is derived without services rendered. The Discos will irrefutably without any external pressures ensure at all times that not only adequate power is distributed but supervised to see that it is effectively delivered to customers endpoints for their earnings to occur.
And finally, digital metering conserves energy against the usual wastages as only customers in need of electricity switch on to power for use. The present-day laxity among the distribution companies that even when put on notice that customers are in blackout, they relax without taking any urgent measures to remedy the situation is because supply or not, majority are on estimated billing system. Hence, their monthly targets are spread to the vulnerable customers on estimated bills with threats of disconnections. The way out of the predicament is simple; compulsory prepaid metering system for all customers and its failure should be taken as economic sabotage.
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst and an associate of The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (United Kingdom). [07057101974-SMS only]