In the early 1900s, in the dawning of the automobile age, cynics predicted the early demise of the ‘horse-less’ carriage. Dismissed as yet another passing fad, many predicted the speedy return of real horse power and the demise of the auto. If they could only see us now!
Prepay power metering technology has suffered similar scepticism, but it appears that its time has finally arrived. Once thought to be a solution for high risk accounts, pay-as-you-go metering technology has matured as the best of energy and account management technologies available in the global metering community. Teaming up prepayment of the commodity with real-time monitoring and tracking ability, prepayment metering provides the best results of two applications.
PRESERVING WHAT I OWN
Conservation and consumerism clash when supply is apparently abundant. We need only look to our present energy consumption habits to verify this fact. In Ontario, an average household consumes roughly 25 kWh per day. We consume at this rate because conventional electricity is cheap and because we typically have no idea how much, when or what consumes the electricity we use.
When a prepayment power customer in Woodstock purchases electricity, he in effect takes home a commodity. That $50 purchase shows up on his in-home display as a dollar amount, which is immediately recognised as his own. The consumer monitors the status of that $50, with the ability to witness the rate of shrinkage that will take place over the next days or weeks. More importantly, he is now empowered to control the rate at which his investment will shrink, while witnessing the wonders that $50 will provide. Naturally, he makes every effort to preserve what he owns.
Compare that to a post-payment customer who has no dollars and cents reference to electricity use. He turns on an appliance – no consequence. He installs 100 watt lamps and leaves them on all day – no consequence. That is until the electricity bill arrives at month’s end.
Prepayment consumers, by simply monitoring their electricity investment, immediately take exception to the depreciation of their investment and react to minimise the rate of shrinkage. The result? Conservation.
MONITORING WHAT I CONSUME
Roughly 25% of our residential customer base participates in prepayment metering technology – and they do so electively. With over 15 years of prepayment metering firmly embedded in our billing and customer service offering, Woodstock has electricity consumers who have experienced no other method of paying for and receiving this service. And they are not about to give it up.
Woodstock Hydro has enjoyed extensive media coverage over several years, many including spontaneous interviews with prepay customers. Much to the surprise of previously sceptical reporters, they have yet to interview an unhappy customer. Covering all demographic and age groups, a consistent and strong message is presented.
“I receive no electricity bill; I purchase power when I can and by whatever dollar amounts I can afford; I can see what I’m using in dollars and cents as I’m using power; I can track what I’ve used yesterday and last month”, are just a few of the statements made.
A prepayment customer was quoted recently, saying, “With prepay power, I have the ability to monitor what each appliance or piece of equipment uses, or what it costs me for an hour, or a day. I can complete an energy audit of my own home on my own terms.”
THE CIRCLE OF CONSERVATION
Combining the concept of commodity ownership, monitoring consumption in real time and the ability to purchase power whenever and in whatever amounts desired creates a circle of conservation – and all of this while consistently demonstrating energy savings of up to 20%. These energy savings are achieved while providing the customer with enhanced service and providing a level of respect for their ability to learn and manage this resource.
SMART METERING AND FUTURE ENHANCEMENTS
Although the newer Ampy metering technology now being installed in Woodstock does provide 24-hour interval capability, it does not yet allow for remote interrogation. Smart card technology will not meet the rigorous requirements of data collection required of the new Ontario electricity metering era, but development is underway.
Jonathan Elmer, the CEO of Ampy Metering in Great Britain, recently unveiled an elaborate AMR integration for the prepayment system. This next generation will provide for two-way communication, allowing for multiple services, pre- or post-pay functionality and many other enhancements as they strive to meet the expected requirements of the smart metering regime. Something good is about to get a whole lot better.
SO WHY ARE WE ALONE IN CANADA?
If this is such a great ide, and customers apparently like it so much, why are we alone? The City of Woodstock continues to be the only Canadian community that includes prepay metering as part of its electricity provider’s standard metering and billing option. Although we continually take calls from consumers outside of our distribution territory, it is not yet available to them.
There is no denying the fact that prepayment metering requires a commitment from the host local distribution company (LDC). This technology runs in parallel to conventional billing systems in many cases, although integration is evolving. Acceptance by internal staff is also an influencing factor. As part of our customer service culture at Woodstock Hydro, prepayment is accepted and in fact embraced by our employees; however, to a new LDC, it can take time to adapt to the nuances of a metering/billing integrated technology.
Aside from regulatory bodies, another hurdle, ironically, can be local social agency groups. Misunderstanding and misconception of the technology often leads social protection agencies to cry foul over something they may view as a threat to low income housing clients. The irony lies in the fact that by providing the necessary power management and budgeting tools, this group is often the most responsive and best served of any customer group. Overwhelmingly, people appreciate being provided with the power management and budgeting tools available through this technology.
PREPAYMENT PROVES ITSELF
With a decade and a half of experience working with the technology and among end users of the technology, we inherently accept prepay metering as a success. We respect the fact that it will not be for everyone – but we believe that this is also the case with any metering technology on offer.
At Woodstock Hydro, we pride ourselves in ‘out of the box thinking’. Prepayment metering takes us to a completely different level of customer service and care, allowing us to interact with consumers in ways post-pay metering and billing never will.
In Ontario, we face challenging times ahead in terms of energy supply and transmission. Instilling a culture of conservation can be achieved only by educating people about the real costs and consequences of their electricity consumption habits. Prepayment metering has proven itself in time and application as a solution that should be taken seriously – and in a market that certainly needs solutions.