Improving your revenue

Since the first electricity meter was installed, people have been finding ingenious ways of tricking the meter and utility companies out of revenue. These ideas are now actively traded on the Internet.

Every year utilities around the world lose huge amounts of energy and money to theft, tampering and illegal connections. But utility companies at the forefront of the industry are now realising that with automatic meter reading they can actually get ahead of the game. They can instantly spot when a so-called ‘empty’ house starts using energy, or when a property’s consumption pattern suddenly changes, possibly due to fraud.

$MILLIONS LOST

Many utilities lose millions of dollars each year through ‘unaccounted for consumption’, often called transmission and distribution losses and dismissed as a technical problem that must be lived with. These losses come from illegal connections, manual reading limitations, deliberate theft or tamper, leakage and meter inaccuracies. Estimates of losses are hard to obtain; either few utilities know the real figure or they prefer to keep it to themselves.

Automatic meter reading (AMR) solves these issues by using a two-way fixed network to provide interactive control over the meter installation. This can detect leakage and tamper, check the efficiency of meters and also overcome the physical problems of reading meters in remote or inaccessible areas. AMR also means utilities can disconnect/reconnect the supply and manage tenancy change without the need for an on-site visit.

CUT METERING COSTS

A fixed network system cuts metering costs by providing continuous on-line data capture for all your customers. It also allows detection of any suspicious or unaccountable consumption.

Proof of the system’s capabilities have already been revealed – for example a trial of AMR by South Staffordshire Water Authority at Merry Hill Shopping Centre immediately detected a consumption increase in one shop overnight, which identified a water leak.

Because the meters are being read round the clock, fraudulent use and tamper can be detected, even in unoccupied premises, allowing immediate action including remote disconnection. Utility managers should consider that when nothing is done about revenue, the annual losses can be so great that in some cases it is equivalent to the cost of building a new power station.

UNACCOUNTED CONSUMPTION

Unaccounted consumption can range from 10-40%. West Bengal reports revenue loss of 30% and the Texas Utilities and Water Board showed 1997 water losses of 12-36%. Across the USA an estimated $60 billion is lost annually, with 1.5% of all customers involved.

It should focus the mind of utility managers to think that the system for illegal consumption is far more sophisticated than the system for preventing it, and that taking no action to protect revenue could lead to reduced dividends for shareholders.

Automatic meter reading may not be the answer to all our prayers, but it will certainly help make significant improvements to the bottom line, tackle revenue protection and revenue loss and – perhaps most important – keep the shareholders happy.

THE BENEFITS OF AUTOMATIC METER READING

• Immediate warning of tamper.
• Immediate alarm of any activation of meter in an empty property.
• Regular data to identify non-registering meters.
• Eliminate problems of difficult access.
• Substantially reduce meter-reading costs.
• On demand meter reads.
• Remote connect/disconnect.

METHODS USED TO STEAL ELECTRICITY

Spiders – small holes are drilled into the meters and live spiders or spiders’ eggs crammed into them. The spiders’ webs slow down the metering mechanism, giving a false reading.
Needles – pins are inserted into a hole, slowing down the meter’s recording wheel to give a flash reading or even a zero usage.
Magnets – small magnets attached to the outside of the meter casing will stop the meter from registering, or slow it down.
Chewing gum – gum is often used to stop the meter completely but is taken out just before the meter reading is done.
Bypass – meters are removed and power sourced illegally from underground cables and overhead wires.