Prepayment technologies on trial in Kuwait
The Ministry of Electricity and Water (MEW) of the state of Kuwait has recently decided to focus its strategy on a modernisation of the metering equipment over the next few years. This decision was taken because of problems such as meter failures, missed readings, constant change of tenants, estimated bills and levels of bad debt. Prepayment and AMR were both considered appropriate technologies to solve these problems, and prepayment was the first to be trialled.
The major work involved in the pilot project included testing different types of prepayment systems, testing metering equipment under very hot climatic conditions during the summer season, evaluating customer feedback and estimating the efficiency of the system (return on investment).
Three different types of prepayment system were installed with the collaboration of different manufacturers and local agents in Kuwait – keypad based systems, disposable card systems (one-way) and two-way smart card systems. Different types of customer and buildings were chosen for the trial – farms, chalets, commercial complexes or commercial shops and apartment buildings. All these installations represent the typical customers for prepayment meters in Kuwait. From a technical point of view, the final installation will include all the directly-connected meters (single phase and polyphase). Some 350 meters have been installed since September 1999, most of them during March and April 2000.
For Hydro-Québec International (consultant to the MEW of Kuwait for this project) it was important to see all the meters in operation during the summer, especially the period from June to September when temperatures are at their highest. Kuwait is probably one of the hottest places in the world in summer time, with temperatures sometimes over 50°C in the shade. The dusty environment caused by the sand from the desert was also an important factor to consider. Local conditions therefore represented a very good test for the metering equipment, and most of the manufacturers passed it successfully.
All the vending facilities have been installed in a local office of the Ministry of Electricity and Water, in the area where most of the meters are installed. To help the customers, and to ensure that assistance was available 24 hours a day, each local agent was asked to put an emergency phone line in place. Instructions were distributed to all customers, telling them how to use their meters. Identification cards containing the name of the manufacturer and the serial number of the meter were distributed to all keypad customers, in order to facilitate their identification at the vending station. For smart card customers, all the information was written directly on the smart card. All communication with customers was written in both Arabic and English to avoid any confusion, because of Kuwait’s multicultural environment (migrant workers make up more than 60% of the population).
The project was not without difficulties. For example, the Kuwait three digit currency (1000 fils = 1 Kuwaiti Dinar) caused a major problem for some manufacturers. In addition the Kuwaiti tariffs vary from 2 fils per kWh (around 0.65 US cents) to 10 fils per kWh (around 3.25 US cents) depending on the type of customer. The fact that levels of consumption are very high during the summer also had to be taken into account, and we realised that some manufacturers are not able to supply single phase prepayment meters with 80 A and prepayment polyphase meters with 125 A, as is usual in Kuwait.
Other problems were related to the fact that in Kuwait the maximum load occurs in the summer, when temperatures are high. Some equipment is unable to disconnect the circuit under these extreme conditions. The pilot project also revealed the fact that there is no standard common to manufacturers in the prepayment industry, except the one used in South Africa by ESKOM (the electricity utility in that country) with single tariff keypad meters. This is another important point to consider for a utility interested in buying new meters gradually through different tenders.
Despite some initial reluctance from certain customers, the project demonstrated a general satisfaction on the part of all customers and building owners. Feedback has been very good. People are saying that they are in control of their consumption and their electricity bills. Customers who used to receive high bills once a year or once every two to three years were happy that they could budget for their electricity consumption, and in fact avoid any debt accumulation. Some were happy to see systems that can prevent fraud – for example, certain customers had in the past found that other consumers had been connected to their meters. Several customers were surprised to discover how much energy they were using per day. For the first time they were able to see how saving energy would affect their consumption bill, thus reducing the amount they were required to pay.
REMOTE DISPLAYS A KEY FEATURE
The pilot project also showed that the most important option for customers living in apartment buildings with meters installed in a meter room was the installation of a remote display. With this remote display installed inside their premises, interaction between customers and the prepaid systems is possible and is seen as a major advantage. This feature meant that customers were more satisfied and had more confidence in the system.
The positive feedback from the customers and the general satisfaction that had been voiced during the pilot project have meant that MEW is now interested in implementing a prepayment metering system in Kuwait on a larger scale. For MEW, prepayment meters are the solution for all directly connected meters, enabling the ministry to offer good service to their customers. Other benefits of the system include reliable measurement, accurate bills, improvement in cash flow and elimination of the debt related to this category of meter. The use of prepayment meters will also eliminate manual readings, data entry of the consumption into the billing systems and the production of bills. In addition it will help to recover the investment required.
From the consultants’ point of view, the technical aspect upon which we will need to focus will be the selection of the most suitable technology. The environmental conditions, particularly the high summer temperatures combined with the high level of current used during summer, will be the major consideration in the final selection of the metering system to be used in Kuwait.