Housing association cuts costs and improves services to tenants

The St. Pancras Housing Association (SPHA) has set themselves up as one of the first private, small scale electricity distributors in the UK.

However, the human resources required to read meters and manage bills for 95 residential properties, ten commercial tenants, a community centre for the elderly and SPHA's headquarters was a major problem. It was overcome using EASE II software and associated subtenant billing systems, supplied by PRI Ltd. EASE II reads PRI's CALMU meters, installed into each tenant's property, via a simple network. Data collection is done every night. The system produces bills at the touch of a button, and is able to track tenants' payments into their electricity accounts. Accounting facilities are available, such as identifying tenants who have not paid after a period of grace and the generation of reminder statements, enabling SPHA to manage the accounting process with a minimum of effort.

On average, residential tenants see a 25% saving in their electricity bills. Tenants pay at the same unit rate as before, but there is no standing charge. This is of particular benefit to low usage households, and retains the incentive to conserve power.

The Combined Power System CHP generator supports the base electrical load of the block (54kW) producing about 97kW of heat as a byproduct. Additional electrical supplies are purchased under a Code 5 contract at wholesale rates, while extra heat for colder days is supplied by conventional gas fired boilers. The CHP and boiler system is little more complex to run than a conventional large scale gas fired boiler system. Angela Eagle, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the environment, visited the SPHA earlier this year and met two long-standing tenants, who are delighted with the new service. Their bills are lower, and they also enjoy the absence of periodic meter reading visits. Now they have ready access to SPHA, with one contact who deals with all their property matters.

John Bird, who masterminded the system installation for SPHA, noted that the association expected to recover the investment in about seven years. This is a perfectly acceptable time span for the property organisation, although it could have been much shorter if they had not chosen to offer significant financial benefits to their tenants. Although the CHP plant and electricity metering added to the cost, the old boilers had to be replaced in any case, and this was thus the perfect opportunity to combine the benefits of new technology with periodic replacement of old plant. John commented: "We would not have been able to offer our tenants the benefits of the scheme without the automatic billing system, as the effort required for reading meters would have exceeded our resources." Ms Eagle was particularly interested to hear that, in addition to the financial benefits, the CHP plant was making an annual reduction of 275 tonnes of carbon dioxide, about 20% for the site, and an annual primary energy saving of 650 000 kWh. These figures are particularly relevant, as Prime Minister Tony Blair recently returned from the World Environmental Conference, where the UK committed to further reductions in carbon dioxide output. Further savings were also anticipated if the SPHA decides to proceed with metering space heating (piped hot water) and providing better communal heating controls. Sanjaya Singhal, PRI's managing director, was able to assure SPHA that PRI's multi utility meters and the existing advanced EASE II system anticipated their need to monitor head consumption, and already included provision for monitoring heat energy. The minister made it clear to all concerned that they could expect every encouragement from her department to push forward with more schemes to replicate the success at SPHA's trailblazing project. The industry can expect that the government will be exploring ideas to stimulate statutory bodies, energy users and individual suppliers to proceed with the ideas and technology which have been so successful at SPHA.