Nairobi to test drive Kenya Power’s smart meters project
Kenya Power is embracing innovative technologies and rolling out a new scheme: the installation of 5,000 smart meters in select parts of Nairobi. The move is part of a two-year, Sh150-million pilot scheme to evaluate the efficacy of the meters, which enable customers to track their own electricity consumption in real time while also allowing Kenya Power employees to remotely obtain meter readings.
“We are in the final stages of the procurement process and expect that the first smart meter will be installed sometime in January,” says Cleophas Ogutu, one of Kenya Power’s assistant engineers working on the project. “We picked upper class residential areas like Runda and businesses in Kariobangi and the CBD to help us get a sense of the two customer segments based on consumption.” The 5,000 test customers collectively have a monthly power bill in excess of Sh100,000.
“Each of the three zones will cost us Sh50 million, but we expect that over the next four years this will translate into distribution efficiency that will save us close to a billion shillings,” says a company spokesperson. “The total investment of Sh150 million is therefore justified.”
If the pilot scheme is deemed successful, the plan is to distribute the smart meters to 500,000 customers around the country, an exercise that is predicted to cost somewhere in the area of Sh15 billion. At present Kenya Power has a clientele base of 2.3 million customers.
Smart meters offer several advantages
One of the key benefits of the smart meters is that they allow for off-site monitoring of electricity consumption, meaning Kenya Power employees will no longer need to physically visit customers’ home or offices to obtain readings. When a power bill goes unpaid, the company can remotely disconnect that customer’s supply.
Other benefits are:
- The company can receive real-time reports of any meter tampering,
- The meters enable two-way communication between the company’s server and each client via general packet radio service (GPRS),
- Kenya Power can alert clients of any planned power shutdowns and send them promotional messages,
- Clients can monitor their own consumption in real time and view a history of their consumption via the meters’ interactive display, and
- Power Kenya will be able to better manage its expenditure and save on operations in the long term.
The power company estimates that it will be able to save roughly Sh700 million over four years in the Nairobi area alone through the project.
Better payment collection
Part of the inspiration behind the move to smart meters is Kenya Power’s ongoing struggle with unpaid bills, which it states reached a staggering Sh9.1 billion between June 2012 and June 2013 (versus Sh8.02 billion the previous year).
It is therefore hoped that the smart meters will encourage customers to amend their usage if they can see that their bill is exceeding their ability to pay. At present the company utilises prepaid and automatic meters to reduce the risk of non-payment.
Another pro of the smart meters is that their client-facing displays provide customers with recourse to dispute incorrect power bills.