Revenue protection in the Australian utility industry



Deregulation and privatisation of electrcity utilities leading to full retail competition (FRC) in the southern states of Australia in the late 1990s and early 2000s has exposed networks and retailers to greater areas of revenue loss than before. To prepare for FRC, the industry went through a period of downsizing and centralisation of all functions, which resulted in an exodus of experienced personnel. Further, meter providers, data agencies, networks and retailers are all ring-fenced from each other and each has its own data, billing and information systems.

Historically, revenue protection manages situations of customer theft via unsafe and irregular connections made to consumer mains prior to the meter, as well as meter interference. The growth areas are now in metering multiplier errors on current transformer installations, system errors, operator errors and omissions. To maximise the financial potential, the focus is on errors and omissions made internally. However, investigations into customer theft also provide a financial top-up. Some revenue investigation departments also have a safety awareness programme directed at those customers who steal power. Most importantly, the function should provide training for all personnel and make recommendations for procedural changes as they are identified.

To effectively identify revenue loss, the revenue investigations function should liaise with the network, retailer, meter provider and data agency. In addition, regular liaison should occur with outside law enforcement agencies, regulatory bodies and other revenue investigation personnel.

The onset of FRC has seen functions that historically provided customer service, such as field service representatives, become aligned with the network, and these functions are not required to talk to customers. As such revenue investigation provides the vital link between the retailer and customer; in fact it is now accepted that the function is the only resource the retailer can rely on to resolve a host of complex issues that arise with the customer.

Instances of electrical bypasses installed for indoor hydroponic cultivation of cannabis have increased in 2004. In this year alone, 80 cannabis-related bypasses have been detected in just one utility, and these numbers are expected to increase. The network business relies heavily on the revenue investigation activity to manage these instances from end to end, ensuring safety for law enforcement personnel, company personnel and customers.