Demonstrating a
prepayment meter
in a home in Bogotá
 
Bogotá, Colombia --- (METERING.COM) --- March 6, 2007 -- A stronger focus on the customer and loss reduction are the two most important issues utilities across the Central American and Caribbean region should be focussing on in the years ahead, delegates to the first Metering Central America and Caribbean agreed.

And modern metering technologies – such as automatic meter reading (AMR), PLC and prepayment – will enable them to do this – and thus, urged Felipe Corriols, coordinator of the metering department of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), in a discussion on the future of metering in the region, while such high investment projects may be difficult to justify, particularly for public utilities, it is essential that companies move to introducing these technologies.

“We cannot leave metering on its own and it needs to be seen as part of the bigger utility picture,” said Corriols, commenting that new metering technologies have demonstrated that losses may be reduced down to less than ten percent from the more than 20 percent that has been typical across the Central American and Caribbean region for the past many years.

However, he cautioned, any technology should not be installed for its own sake but based on its projected level of return.

Metering Central America and the Caribbean took place in Bogotá, Colombia from 21-23 February and attracted some 240 participants from countries across the region as well as elsewhere in Latin America and further afield.

Under the title ‘Strategies for revenue enhancement and energy management’, participants discussed new prepayment and AMR projects being implemented across the region, as well as new billing, revenue protection and customer management strategies.

Alfonso Valverde, head of the energy administration section of Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz (CNFL), also from Costa Rica, supported this view, saying that the costs are becoming more accessible to utilities.

“Often we can be too cautious with new technologies, and we must be aware of the rate of return,” said Valverde. As an example he cited the advantages of being able to do remote connect/disconnects. “With increasing vehicle jams we cannot get out as quickly as we used to, and one forgets that in cases of short disconnects – generally those people who simply forget to pay their bill until a day or so overdue – that two visits are involved, one to do the disconnection and the second to do the reconnection.”

Ceferino Rodrigues, director of the metering laboratory of the Empresa de Acueducto y Alcantarilado de Bogotá (EAAB), commented that metering is also very important for water and is in fact crucial for its long term sustainability. However, there must be an awareness of the system errors as well as the consumption profiles of users, given the scale of errors in water meters and thus the narrow margin for profitability when acquiring such technologies.

Samuel Lee, director general – Latin America of Actaris, described metering as “an efficient way to exert control over a resource” and said that efficient metering would lead to the rational use of the resource.

The event was opened by Colombia’s minister of mines and energy Hernán Martínez Torres, who commented on the potential for prepayment in Colombia, in providing both a reasonable return for the utility providers as well as greater and better access to services for the customer. Several prepayment pilot projects are currently underway in Bogotá, Medellín and on the Atlantic coast, and delegates were able to view the former, in which three different technologies are under test by Codensa in three different areas of Bogotá – a smart card-based system, a PLC-based system and a PIN-based prepayment system.

“These projects are expected to be expanded in the coming months,” said minister Martínez, adding that from the Colombian government’s perspective the event was important in confirming the confidence of foreign investors in Colombia and in the steps taken by the government in the last few years to improve the delivery of public services.

By Jonathan Spencer Jones