Umeme to use GPS in meter readers
By BiztechAfrica – Oct. 20, 2013, 7:14 a.m.
By Julius Odera Omondi, Kampala, Uganda
In a bid to mitigate the losses caused by electricity theft, which are eating into the company’s profits, Uganda’s power distributor Umeme has initiated a plan to start using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology in its meter-reading devices.
Dubbed SevenX, the gadgets are deemed to caution the firm against collusion of its field officers who are given the responsibility of reading the meters and the consumers as well as alert the firm on any faulty tendencies on its connection or infrastructure. Ronald Kwaddwa, the manager in charge of meters at the firm noted: “We have had cases where the field officers collude with the consumers and do not report the correct readings hence denying the firm of its genuine revenue.”
He added that in some cases, the same field officers also help the consumers bypass the meter and hence consume power without paying. According to him, they are embracing technology to help them fight such vices as the new gadgets will help monitor such incidences hence curb electricity theft and boost revenue collection.
The gadgets which are hand-held will be supplied by New Zealand’s DataCol Group at a cost of $1 million and will be used to track geographical positions of meters, relaying customers’ details like their location, readings and monthly bills to the main office.
The firm also hopes to use GPS equipment to redeem its image among the clients as it will help foster transparency between the parties an important aspect that the firm has for long grappled with as most its clients has accused it of lacking transparency. Kwaddwa explained, “This is a cost effective solution for the fast developing electricity infrastructure. It facilitates accuracy and transparency of operations. It will substantially improve customer service, revenue collection and the meter-reading and billing process.” DataCol Group CEO Bruce Franks alluded to the effectiveness of the technology noting that the SevenX will help the company reduce losses from data capture errors and theft, and hence lead to improved cash flow.
Kwaddwa noted that the company has so far mapped 90 per cent of its customers, and recorded their GPS co-ordinates. The new technology is set to be first rolled out in Najjankumbi, a Kampala suburb, as it extends to other areas in the country.
Umeme, which has more than 530,000 meters countrywide, has seen its energy losses drop from 27.3 per cent to 26.1 per cent in 2012. However, Kwaddwa was optimistic that with the firm’s adoption of the new technology, the figure for energy losses could be halved in a year. Sebaggala Kigozi, the executive director of Ugandan Manufacturers Association, said they welcome Umeme’s innovation and hope the cost of electricity will gradually come down as the errors will be eliminated.