By NJOKI CHEGE
The Kenya Power introduced pre-paid electricity meters in 2009 as a pilot phase to save electricity and ease consumption and utility bill payment.
A complete project was rolled out last year. In August last year, the project was slowed down to address pertinent issues like inadequate, consumer education, logistics, and faulty meters.
The pre-paid electricity meters could be compared to pre-payment services offered by mobile phone companies, where one pays before use. Calculations are similar to the post-paid meter with the difference being one credits a prepaid meter in advance.
A check across several households with the pre-paid meter elicited mixed reactions among consumers. While some testify that the pre-paid meters save electricity and costs, others remain unsatisfied, citing various concerns.
Suspicion on tariffs
Maurice Okello feels the pre-paid meters do not give the consumers a breakdown of their consumption, breeding suspicion that it is expensive.
"As opposed to a post-pay bill that gives me the breakdown of my electricity consumption, I am unable to follow up my consumption. Sometimes when I load credit, I get less units and I don’t know who to call for help," he says.
Kenya Power Chief Project Engineer, John Wekesa, argues that the misconception of overcharged units was largely due to consumer ignorance of power tariffs for domestic users.
"Pre-paid customers find it difficult to understand domestic tariffs as applied to pre-paid. What people don’t know is that tariffs are not set by Kenya Power, but by the Energy Regulatory Commission, which has the mandate to set fair and economical rates," he says.
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Alice Kemunto feels that the pre-pay meters are unreliable because of the limited channels through which consumers can use to pay for electricity.
"One weekend my tokens run out and when I paid via M-Pesa, it would not go through because the systems were down. It was disappointing," she said.
Sofia Nduku says she has saved a lot as compared to the post-pay meter system. "I realise that I am now in control of my electricity consumption. This has helped me save money I spend on power bills," she says.
A check with the power utility firm confirms ignorance on how the pre-paid meters work.
Kenya Power has carried out several customer satisfaction surveys on the system accuracy and viability.
"The findings have shown that Kenya Power services satisfaction level has always been above 70 per cent with the most recent one by Consumer Options Ltd standing at 77 per cent," says Wekesa.
"The surveys indicate prepaid meters haves saved costs for customers. A reduction in consumption has been noted leading to a reduction in the electricity costs incurred due to the friendly and interactive nature of the pre-paid meter which enables monitoring of electricity consumption via the Customer Interface Unit," adds Wekesa.
Out of the survey, the key complaints that emerged include a delay in receipt of tokens bought through M-Pesa or Airtel Money, faulty pre-paid meters, and the popular misconception of "overcharge" for units.
He observed that when units run low consumers can reduce consumption by switching off unnecessary loads to save electricity.
Wekesa says a prepaid meter comprise of the Measurement and Control Unit that record energy and also interrupt electricity when credit is depleted, and the Customer Interface Unit (CIU) that is used for loading credit and also monitoring of electricity consumption by the customer.
Using the 11 digit prepaid meter number, the consumer purchases electricity tokens at a vending point and feeds the 20-digit pin into the CIU to load the electricity units.
"Kenya power vending points are connected to the system master station or pre-paid servers in an online and real-time manner thus enabling instant delivery of tokens upon purchase by the customer from the various vending channels including via mobile phones like through M-Pesa and Airtel money," Says Wekesa.
This can be done anywhere provided one has money on phone account. Wekesa says several advantages accrue, like not contending with erroneous bills, monitoring and control electricity usage, and even save time that would have otherwise been used queuing to pay bills.
The automation of the M-Pesa and Airtel money vending channel and constituting of rapid response teams to enable expeditious resolution of complaints has been put in place by the power provider to sort out the first two major complaints.
How tariffs work
Kenya Power charges a monthly fixed charge of Sh120. There are also the energy charges of Sh2 per unit for the first 50 units bought, Sh8.10 per unit for 51-1,500 units and then Sh 18.57 per unit for units above 1,500.
"This is why say Sh500 will not get one the same number of units at various times of the month depending on the category the customer purchase falls in," he says.
Charging a flat rate would have been at Sh7 per unit, which expensive and unfair to the 40 per cent that consume less than 50 units a month.
In a bid to counter the ignorance surrounding the pre-pay meters, Kenya Power has embarked on an intensive customer education about tariffs, particularly the domestic tariff. There have also been efforts to lobby Finance Ministry to exempt all customers from VAT for first 200 units.
"Kenya power has already engaged over ten retail third party vendors to assist in the dispensing of prepaid electricity tokens. These vendors are situated in the estates where the pre-paid meters have been installed," says Wekesa.