A cost-effective technology solution for energy poor households
Aliaksei Brouka © 123RF.com

Energy poverty is a reality and a challenge for utilities. Yet, is there a technology solution which may address some of the challenges around cost-to-serve?

The European Commission has estimated that nearly 11% of the EU’s population is in a situation where their households are not able to adequately heat their homes at an affordable cost. According to the research, the problem is due to rising energy prices, low income and poor energy efficient homes, and it is particularly prevalent in Central Eastern and Southern Europe.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International Issue 5-2020.
Read the mobile-friendly digimag or subscribe to receive a print copy.

According to the EU Science Hub, “Over 50 million people in the EU experienced energy poverty in 2018. Energy poverty means that households are unable to afford essential energy services needed to guarantee a decent standard of living.”

Research released by the EU Science Hub in 2020 indicates that in many cases, digital technology and utilisation of ICT can reduce energy consumption “in social housing, … helping vulnerable consumers to reduce their energy bills.”

The research showed that “energy savings are possible even in vulnerable households … and that smart metering can lead to lower energy bills, thus contributing to the alleviation of energy poverty.

“The low level of tenant engagement is reported in the majority of project outputs …” along with low levels of literacy and experience with energy savings.

…AS A UTILITY YOU ARE SPENDING 15% MORE ON METERS THAN YOU NEED TO!

However, it is believed that “… sending warnings if consumption patterns drastically change or consumption ceases altogether may prove effective and warrants additional study.”

Smart meters and in-home displays deliver important benefits to individuals and homes which are considered income poor and

  • puts householders in control of their energy use as no more estimated meter readings
  • result in less erroneous billing – pay for what you use
  • switching is easier in multi-retailer markets
  • there are no up-front costs for installation in some countries.

Additionally, because the meters can operate in smart prepay mode, customers could benefit from this option due to the:

  • potential to unlock more competitive prepay tariffs;
  • interchangeable mode between prepay and credit removes prepay stigma as it is the same meter;
  • overcome accessibility issues for top-up;
  • increased variety of payment methods.

Yet, how do utilities address this social inequality with the regulatory mandate to provide multiple millions of homes with smart meters across Europe and the member states of the European Union?

How is the cost of a standard smart meter justified in a household on the verge of energy poverty? Is it possible for the energy poor to be equally, if not better serviced than other households, but with a meter that costs less?

These questions were key in Conlog’s quest to solve this problem with new technology.

Conlog is a leading metering solutions provider for utilities, municipalities, and property management companies in South Africa, South America, the Middle East and Africa at large.

Speaking to Logan Moodley, Conlog CEO, he shares information about their newest product – a 30A meter for households that are considered energy poor.

Conlog’s new wBEC Nano integrated wireless meter range provides a high quality solution for low consumption requirements. The compact three terminal DIN rail bottom entry meter is packed with features to enhance customer satisfaction, whilst providing the valuable data needed by utilities worldwide.

Features and benefits of the wBEC Nano include:

  • The ultrasonically welded meter has built-in tamper detection.
  • The meter can work in either prepaid or post-paid modes.
  • Remote reading and receiving of STS tokens via Conlog’s AMI system is enabled.
  • Consumer meter interfaces allow consumers the ability to monitor consumption.

Moodley says: “In order to help the utility quantify their return on investment we suggest they have a clear idea of the segmentation of their customers’ consumption. Ideally, they should know what percentage of their customers are below 30A, which below 60A and below 80A.”

This kind of segmentation will allow a utility to extend the purchasing power of the available budget and serve each one of its customer segments equally while utilising ‘fit for purpose’ technologies.

“Depending on the segment, you can recover your investment faster based on customer consumption,” says Viven Perumal, marketing executive, Conlog.

This ‘fit for purpose’ approach means that an ‘over-specified’ meter is not used where it’s likely to be least effective.

“We’ve designed our new meter to work in offline and AMI mode should the customer wish at 30 amps and 60 amps,” Perumal continues. “Based on the various segments of customers’ data we’ve got a variety of meters available to suit every customers’ needs. We have meters from 30A right up to 250A direct connected meter, so we are able to provide something fit for purpose.”

As the number of amps increases, so too does the sophistication of the features available – along with the price per unit.

Perumal believes that could be a significant game changer for utilities. “From a management perspective it’s significant because they have the opportunity to undertake remote disconnects and remote monitoring; but more than that, it enables them to provide an aspirational service to clients without breaking the bank.”

Since the meters are ultrasonically welded it is incredibly hard to tamper with in any way without it disfiguring the casing. Depending on the level of tampering, if they do break it open it’s unlikely they will be able to put it back together, and the meter will stop functioning.

The true benefit of the new range of meters is firmly based on its applicability to customer segmentation and the price point.

The 30A meter is proposed at a price of $35 – a figure which is approximately 50% that of a standard prepaid meter.

“If you have 30% of your population at 30A – in reality, as a utility you are spending 15% more on meters than you need to!”, Perumal concludes.

Given the many millions of dollars spent globally on smart meter rollouts, this could represent a significant saving for both the utility and society at large – whilst still delivering the key metering services and benefits to a particularly vulnerable portion of society.

Enhanced security & protection features

Remote and manual disconnect/ reconnect

  • Management of unpaid post-paid accounts
  • Reverse line/load protection
  • Tamper detection

Token Entry lockout

  • Protection against fraudulent token attacks

Delayed reconnection

  • In rush current protection of utility assets
  • Protects appliances from surge due to load shedding

Features

  • Active power measurement
  • Power overload protection
  • Current overload protection
  • Thermal overload protection
  • Configurable tamper detection
  • Pre-paid and post-paid mode
  • Under and over-voltage protection
  • Configurable low credit alarm threshold
  • Operates in extreme supply conditions
  • Optimal for consumption applications as low as 15A
  • Compact bottom entry footprint

About Conlog

Conlog smart meters help with utility management, revenue protection, load management and demand management. The company has a strong focus on big data analytics and smart city solutions and has sold solutions to more than 70 utilities that are now reaping the benefits of its revenue
management solutions. Visit: www.conlog.com