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Lack of information behind rejection of smart meters

‘There is a lack of understanding of how all of this work’

Jeanette Chabalala Senior Reporter
City Power installing smart meters to customers at Patsing informal settlement in Lenasia.
City Power installing smart meters to customers at Patsing informal settlement in Lenasia.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

From spreading misinformation to receiving pushback from some residents. These are just some of the challenges that City Power has experienced while installing smart meters across the City of Johannesburg.  

On Thursday, City Power CEO Tshifularo Mashava admitted that during installations of smart meters across Joburg, they have experienced some pushback but not from all customers.

“There is a lack of understanding of how all of this work, maybe because we have not invested enough from our side in creating the right awareness that says, ‘this is how this works’,” she said. 

Mashava was speaking after her visit to Patsing informal settlement in Lenasia, where she and other officials “officially switched on the lights for the residents” as part of the drive to electrify informal settlements in the City of Johannesburg.

“We did a project in Mayibuye in Midrand, where we installed smart meters and the community said they don’t want these meters because they claim they take too much of their units. So, they think somehow these measure electricity consumption incorrectly.

“The resistance has more to do with not having invested enough in the buy-in but also some people in the community spread wrong messages. We have experienced it in other communities such as Naturena and Eldorado Park. Every time there is a community query around this you find that somebody is going around saying these meters don’t work.”

She said their smart meter journey started as early as 12 years ago.  “We have over 300,000 customers and ideally, all customers must be on smart meters, so over the years I would say we are about 70% there,” she said.

“However, unfortunately for us, some of these meters, especially for our business customers who are large power users, have also reached their end of use and need to be changed. In as much as we are 70%, in that percentage we have some meters that we do need to change ourselves.

“We are a bit ahead when you compare us with other local municipalities, especially in the Gauteng area. But our plans, [and] intention, is to make sure that we go 100% smart meters.”

Mashava said the benefit of a smart meter was that the utility does not have to visit households to read the meter but was able to get the reading online. She said when set up correctly, customers should be able to see their own usage.

She added: “...for revenue protection purposes, when you forget that you need to pay us, we remind you to pay us and if you still don’t pay, it allows us to disconnect you remotely as opposed to us physically coming to your house to switch it off.”

She said the smart meter also allows for load limiting as opposed to load shedding. “It means we are able to send communication to limit usage,” she said.

On Wednesday, during his budget speech, finance minister Enoch Godongwana announced that Treasury is introducing a new R2bn conditional grant over the medium-term to fund the rollout of smart prepaid meters.

“This will begin with municipalities that have been approved for debt relief,” he said at the time. 

The City of Tshwane said it is also installing prepaid meters for customers who apply for new connections.

The programme is run across the City of Tshwane Licensed Service areas through five depots – namely Prince Park depot area (Region3), Waltloo (Region 6), Centurion (Region 4), Rosslyn (Region 1 and 2) and Bronkhorstspruit (Region 5 and 7).

“To date, the current prepaid meters installed by the City to electricity customers are 9,872,” spokesperson Selby Bokaba said. 

Bokaba said challenges the city has experienced with the rollout of the prepaid meters include the inability to get access to gated communities, estates and some flats and complexes.

Chabalalaj@sowetan.co.za 


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