Prepaid electricity is here - JPS introduces option for consumers who want to better manage their energy usage
Prepaid metering is a growing energy management tool in the utilities industry and within our region. And now, Jamaicans are joining millions of consumers across the globe, including parts of the Caribbean, who have the option of using a prepaid metering system for their electricity consumption.
Jamaica Public Service Com-pany (JPS) is introducing its Pay As You Go (PAYG) service to 2,000 customers in Kingston & St Andrew and St Catherine this month. The introduction comes in the form of a commercial pilot launched by the company to gauge consumer take-up of the globally accepted service.
Prepaid electricity service is
a real option for the budget-conscious consumer who wishes to use it as a tool to manage their usage.
JPS has indicated that the switch to PAYG is hassle free and requires no investment from the customer operating on 220 volts. Like prepaid telephone service, you purchase as much credit as you like and top up whenever you desire. However, unlike telecoms, the customer has minimal risk of running out of credit. The Customer Interface Unit (CIU), which looks like a security alarm keypad, is installed in the home and beeps when five kilowatt-hours (5kWhs) are remaining on the meter - an average of one day's energy. If, for some reason, the customer cannot top up before the credit is depleted, an additional 5kWhs can be easily forwarded to the customer after a call to the utility's customer care centre. Credit never expires and cannot be stolen.
The prepaid system, first introduced in the form of coin-operated gas meters in the United Kingdom, is now being widely used by millions of consumers in parts of the Caribbean, Mexico, Brazil, the United States, Europe, South Africa, India, Indonesia and Australia.
With advances in technology, deregulation of the utilities industry worldwide, and budget-conscious consumers demanding more options, the move towards the introduction of new smart meters has picked up pace. The proliferation of other technologies, such as the Internet and smartphones, has also provided consumers with more options through a wider range of electronic or online payments.
Over the past decade, utility companies have been gradually introducing or upgrading their grid system to better accommodate prepayment meters. In 2007, there were 5.8 million prepayment meters in use in Great Britain - the majority of them electricity consumers. Since then, the number of prepayment meters installed has increased substantially. The USA is also moving towards prepayment, with the system fairly well-established in sections of Texas and Arizona.
Prepayment meters are also predominantly used in Australia. South Africa has the highest penetration of prepayment meters for electricity in the world, with 54 per cent of its 7.3 million electricity customers using this service, according to ABS Energy Research.
in the Caribbean
Prepayment systems have already been introduced in several Caribbean territories, including Dominica, Antigua, Guyana, and Curacao. In Dominica, the
prepaid service is reported to be particularly attractive to landlords. The facility prevents a tenant from leaving an unpaid utility bill when he vacates the premises. As at November last year, 40 per cent of Dominica Electricity Services customers were using the prepaid system.
In Jamaica, JPS introduced a small technical prepaid pilot in 2014, with positive results. The utility reported that participants in the pilot achieved average year over year savings of 35 per cent on their kWh consumption. Customers attributed these savings to the fact that they became more conscious of exactly how much electricity they used on a daily basis and were able to take corrective measures.
So, what are the advantages for consumers? The new meters allow consumers to monitor energy use in real time via the display unit that is installed in the home. There is no bill at the end of the month; therefore no disconnection, no fees, no deposits and absolutely no cost to switch. The account number can go with the customer whenever they relocate and can be shared with persons who need to top up on their meter. This is particularly useful in instances where there are shared facilities.
The service is grounded in flexibility, choice and control. For now, customers can top-up at any one of the 35 participating Bill Express locations, including JPS parish offices, with online top-up coming on stream this May. Customers will receive a printed voucher with a unique code. When they get home, they simply punch in the code on the CIU and the electricity will be immediately available. Customers in the pilot area can now choose between pre-paid and post-paid service. They can better manage their consumption and control how much they spend on electricity, keeping the customer and the utility debt free.