Tukuza - buying electricity wisely

Within months of completing the first phase roll-out of Energy Measurements’ CUTS electricity prepayment meters in Zanzibar, the country’s electrification project has been confirmed a huge success by the World Bank, which funded the project.

SO EASY, EVEN A CHILD CAN BUY ELECTRICITY.

Energy Measurements, the Siemens and Spescom joint venture company, is a world leader in the development and supply of revenue management systems.

The CASHPOWER2000® technology has become popularly known as ‘Tukuza’ an abbreviation of the Kiswahili words Tumia Umeme Kwa Uangalifu Zanzibar, which means buying according to what you can afford – or, in the words of the elderly Zanzibarian who originally coined the phrase, “Buying electricity wisely”.

In the pilot phase of the project, 8000 households in Michenzani, Stone Town, Migombani, Kiembesamaki and the Zanzibar town Mombassa, received free installations. The concept has been so well received that there is now great demand from consumers willing to pay to have their own Tukuza prepayment system.

For most of these families, having electricity is nothing new. A small country with a population of approximately one million, Zanzibar has a relatively stable economy (supported mainly by clove agriculture and tourism) and fairly widespread reticulation.

“But before, we did not know how much electricity we were using. Now we can control the usage. We can plan to satisfy our needs,” explains the head of the Aboud family of Michenzani. “This system is more economical. Our control is good, therefore we pay less,” he adds.

Budget control has been the major selling point of the system and the reason for the general success of the project, which was initiated two years ago by the Zanzibar State Fuel and Power Corporation (ZSFPC). The ZSFPC awarded the US $2-million tender to Energy Measurements and power engineering firm NOR-ICIL, part of Norwegian group Veidekke ASA, as a joint venture. Its mandate was to supply, install, commission and manage a numeric keypad-based prepayment electricity metering system in Zanzibar for a two-year period.

It was only the second contract won by Energy Measurements for its then recently launched Currency Transfer Specification (CUTS) technology, which handles stepped tariff charges and provides users with a display of remaining credit in the currency of their country.

“It was an early indication of the cost effectiveness of CUTS compared with other prepayment systems,” comments Energy Measurements managing director Mark Tibbenham. “CUTS was the first numeric transfer-based prepayment system capable of handling sophisticated stepped tariffs in the meter.”

This was a stipulation of the World Bank in the original tender. Two years since it was awarded, Alfred Gulstone of the World Bank confirms: “We are very happy with the outcome of the project.”

All parties concerned with the project – the utility, NOR-ICIL, the Bank and the end user – are delighted with the outcome. According to ZSFPC general manager Rashid Haji, there has been a huge reduction of bad debt and improvement in cash flow since the prepayment system was implemented.

“Previously, many people were not paying their bills,” confirms Haji. “Now people are more responsible. They are in a position to budget for their electricity needs within the confines of their income.”

Michenzani Simon Mhaville, operations manager at NOR-ICIL, says that consumers also come out on the winning side financially. “Prior to the introduction of prepayment meters, electricity bills were estimated and consumers were not being charged for actual consumption. Now they can control their electricity usage and everything is in their hands. There are no more disconnection/reconnection problems and no surprise bills. As a result, more and more people are asking for the meter.”

NOR-ICIL project manager Robert Cheyney points out that the utility has already reached its monthly collection target of Tsh 370 million (approximately US$460 000). He notes that with prepayment the consumer is forced to pay his arrears, therefore the system acts as an effective debt collector. Approximately 25% of each prepayment purchase of electricity goes towards paying off any arrears, so ZSFPC’s debt is slowly being reduced.

He also adds that prepayment metering has helped to address corruption, as meter reading is no longer required.

“Money is now going where it should, people are paying for what they get, and there has been a total culture change, which has been necessary to promote commitment to the objectives of the project and ensure its ongoing success.”

EARLY ACCEPTANCE

Ken Baker, Energy Measurements’ international marketing consultant and Spescom director, recently visited Zanzibar to monitor the project. Baker attributes early and eager acceptance of Tukuza by Zanzibarians to the public relations campaign carried out by ZSFPC with NOR-ICIL’s assistance, which focused on informing and educating consumers upfront about what the prepayment system was all about. ‘‘This is an excellent example of how the customer was put first and has benefited all the way through,” he comments.

Besides initial advertising on television, radio and newspaper, bilingual (Kiswahili/English) information booklets explaining prepayment and its benefits were handed out to consumers in the areas where the meters were to be installed. Public relations teams were then positioned at the four established vending stations to assist customers – a practical solution that kept PR people close to and in touch with consumer needs and reactions from the start.

A customer service centre located inside the ZSFPC’s offices and run by NOR-ICIL was also established to assist customers with queries and complaints. Again, this has proved a practical way to encourage acceptance of the technology and to ensure consumers gain maximum benefit.

All vending stations operate from 8am to 8pm, demonstrating further commitment by the supply authority to serve its customers well.

“Buying electricity is so convenient,” says Baker. “The main vending station at the ZSFPC’s offices in Gulioni is a typical payment point and is abuzz with customers coming in throughout the day to buy electricity.

“Another is located next to a supermarket in the up market suburb of Mazizini, where the diplomatic community lives, and a third is at Mizingani in Stone Town.

Michenzani2

“The fourth site in Michenzani is a simple container conveniently located next to high rise apartment blocks typical of this area. While I was there, a young boy came in to buy electricity for his family, demonstrating very clearly just how easy the Tukuza system is to use.”

He stresses how the word ‘Tukuza’, which is displayed on every meter and at every vending station, has played such a positive role in the success of the CUTS technology in Zanzibar. “Local people relate to Tukuza extremely well, because it aptly explains the concept of prepayment in their mother tongue,” he notes.

“The entire concept of prepayment metering and stepped tariff functionality has also served to make electricity an affordable commodity for poorer communities. As it continues to be rolled out more extensively, we can expect it to make an increasingly significant impact on the lives of Zanzibarians across all sectors of the community.”