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Prepaid electricity: The energy management solution for all

Published:Sunday | May 22, 2016 | 5:01 AMCecile McCormack
A prepaid meter that was installed at a house in McGregor Gardens.

Since 2014, when the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) introduced prepaid electricity to Jamaica, more than 600 Rate 10 and 20 customers have been enjoying savings of up to 40 per cent of the electricity costs they incurred when they had a regular post-paid meter.

Landlords and owners of rental properties no longer absorb the debts of their tenants. Community centres have successfully transferred the responsibility of electricity costs to the users of their facilities. Jamaicans who earn on an irregular basis can pay when they earn and, importantly, customers with a prepaid meter have seen reduced costs by simply taking control.

Today, customers in Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine, and a limited number in Clarendon, Manchester, St Elizabeth, and St Thomas are enjoying the benefits of a metering system, which allows them to purchase what they need by matching their consumption to their pockets.

HOW IT WORKS

So how does the system work? To qualify, customers must meet a few criteria, including having 220 volts supply at the premises. Each qualifying customer receives a meter and a Customer Interface Unit (CIU) with a keypad attached.

The CIU is installed inside and connected to the meter outside. Customers then purchase a prepaid electricity voucher of any value, at Bill Express or online at myjpsco.com.

The 20-digit voucher number must then be entered into the CIU keypad. The meter is immediately uploaded with the number of kilowatt hours equivalent to the dollar value of the purchase.

Once this is done, customers can monitor their electricity use by calculating the kilowatt usage by the second, minute, hour, or day. Importantly, customers on the prepaid system are protected, since the credit bought on each customer ’s meter cannot be used on any other meter.

Also, in the event that the prepaid voucher is lost, the voucher number can easily be retrieved from the text message sent to their phone, or from the notification email they would have received, or from the JPS Customer Care Centre.

While prepaid metering has been working for individuals, the product has also been rolled out by the Community Renewal Division and Customer Service Offices, on a community basis, as part of the recently embraced social partnership strategy to get customers back on the grid.

The first community to benefit from prepaid metering so far is McGregor Gardens, where there have been slow but positive results. Before the engagement with Member of Parliament Julian Robinson, fewer than 10 residents in the community were paying JPS customers.

Today, the partnership has seen close to 230 residents enjoying JPS prepaid metering, with close to 50 per cent of residents purchasing electricity credit monthly.

Following closely on McGregor Gardens, the JPS will be regularising nine other communities through social intervention and technical solutions.

Prepaid metering is only one solution which encourages and increases affordability through energy management. House wiring through partnership with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) is a no t h e r initiative designed to benefit high-needs communities under the Community Renewal Programme.

Outside of this programme, communities such as Nannyville Gardens, Price Lane, March Pen, and Boscobel in St Mary have, through their political representatives, engaged the JPS with requests for the installation of prepaid metering to regularise their communities and bring them back on the grid.

So far the 99 per cent prepaid customer retention rate and range of customers who have embraced prepaid electricity, demonstrate that prepaid electricity is the ideal energy management solution for landlords, community centres, and sports venue.

It is also an excellent option for customers with income periods outside of their JPS bill due dates, and generally everyone who wants to manage his electricity consumption.

LONG-RUN COMPLIANCE

The McGregor Gardens experience also shows that fighting losses and successfully increasing compliance can happen in the long run, through a combination of social partnership, political support, and through providing customers with a workable energy-management solution.

Following on its initial success, JPS is preparing to go one step further with the launch of automated prepaid metering in the second half of 2016.

Certainly, more customers, especially those whose communities are served by the residential automated metering infrastructure system, and customers who were previously excluded because their premises are wired with 110 volts supply, will now enjoy the numerous benefits of prepaid metering – no deposit, no disconnection, no reconnection fee, no monthly customer charge, the ability to take control and, above all, significant savings on their electricity consumption costs.

- Cecile McCormack is the special projects and logistics manager (prepaid electricity at the JPS). Email: cmccormack@jpsco.com.