Nigeria discovers the benefits of prepayment

Conlog's David Smart meets with representatives of NEPA and EMCON in Nigeria 

The National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) in Nigeria purchased the E-Kard prepayment meters for a trial system on Victoria Island, to evaluate the pro-cess of integrating this technology into the existing billing system. Their decision was based on Conlog's extensive experience in prepayment metering. As the dominant player in South Africa, Conlog has supplied some 60% of the installed base of meters in that country.

The contract was initially secured by Landis & Gyr, who had an international marketing agreement with Conlog. The latter firm, which has recently been acquired by a South African empowerment consortium, has supplied the technical and marketing personnel who have overseen the installation and training phase of the project. Conlog has extensive experience in other African countries as witness a recent project which required the installation of 46 000 meters in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. This experience was put to good use during training and start-up of the project in Nigeria.

At Victoria Island the installation consists of the E-Kard BEC 20 series single phase and BEC 30 series 3-phase electricity dispensers (meters). (Numeric keypads, the alternative token technology, have not yet been used in Nigeria.) The E-Kard meters use disposable ISO standard (credit card sized) magnetic card tokens, which are inserted into the meter to `top it up' with electricity credit, allowing the meter to dispense power into the home.

The card tokens are purchased from points of sale equipped with Conlog's E-Kard Validator stations, which have been strategically located in the Victoria Island area for easy access by the residents of the 2 500 homes.

The NEPA team involved in the pilot prepayment project in Lagos, Nigeria
The trial site has not been established to evaluate the effectiveness of electricity prepayment systems; it is now widely known that prepayment installations offer a number of benefits to both power authorities and end users. The system's success in South Africa, where approximately 2.5 million homes have been electrified using the technology, has put the question beyond doubt. It is rather to ensure that both conventional billing and prepayment systems are able to co-exist, and that utility staff and systems can be adapted to incorporate the new way of thinking about revenue collection and management.

Energy purchase is only one benefit

The prepayment electricity dispenser in the home provides the user with more benefits than merely a pre-purchase of energy. It also tells the user how much electricity is being consumed at any point in time, via a flashing LED. The faster the flash rate, the more power is being drawn (the more appliances are switched on). The flashing LED is effectively a self-regulating mechanism, which persuades the user to switch off any appliances which are not needed at that particular moment.

The E-Kard meter can be installed either inside the home or in a protective housing outside. If it is mounted inside, the whole family is made aware of the power consumption at any one time, and they can all become more cost conscious by switching appliances off when they are not needed. In addition the user is able to budget consumption properly, because the LCD displays the amount of credit remaining. Users are therefore able to calculate exactly when their credit will run out and, as an extra service, the meter also tells users when it is time to purchase a new token.

The NEPA appreciates the fact that there is no need to read meters and to send out bills - which indeed applies to all prepayment systems. This greatly reduces administration costs, because revenues are now collected at the points of sale.

Training a key component

"One of the major reasons that our utility customers select the E-Kard product range is that Conlog provides extensive training programmes for utility staff, from senior managers to operators," observes David Smart, Conlog Metering international sales and support manager. "And this training includes communicating with home-owners too. We have put a lot of effort into developing a comprehensive range of programmes, using video and other instructional means, and they were included in the contract with NEPA."

The Conlog Electricity Revenue Management System (ERMS) consists of three tiers. At the lowest level there are the installed meters in individual homes, which allow the use of electricity if there is credit remaining. The middle level consists of validator point-of-sale token dispensers, where users purchase their tokens. The top level consists of a system master station computer that provides all management reporting for the system. This includes energy balancing, planning information and early warning of potential fraudulent use.

The E-Kard range has recently been expanded to include the revolutionary BEC 44 Split Meter. Here the measurement and control unit is located outside the home (possibly on a pole) and the user interface unit (token slot and display) is inside the home. This allows homeowners access to all the information they need in terms of consumption and credit remaining, while maintenance and fraud detection are made easier because the utility's personnel do not have to have access to individual premises.

The full E-Kard range can use either magnetic card tokens (which are inserted into a slot on the meter) or numeric tokens (where the credit number is keyed in via the keypad on the meter).

The Victoria Island site, which presently uses the BEC 20 series of meters, is expected to start expanding early in 1998. Thereafter more meters will be installed in Lagos itself, and other Nigerian cities will be electrified using E-Kard revenue management systems.