Electrical engineering experts say the revenue leakages in the pre-paid metering system can be plugged by anti-tampering technologies such as irremovable seals placed on the meters and tracking defaults via a central monitoring system. The billing system, introduced two years ago, continues to be circumvented, resulting in Zesa Holdings losing revenue running into millions of dollars.
University of Zimbabwe electrical engineering lecturer Engineer Emmanuel Rashayi recommended anti-tampering seals and the deployment of inspectors to trouble spots.
“Zesa may need to come up with anti-tampering techniques that have proved to work in other countries.
“One of these measures would be to put anti-tampering seals on the meters. Such seals would show whether the meter would have been tampered with.
“Another way would be to deploy undercover meter inspectors to conduct spot checks. In my opinion, however, the biggest challenge is that of corruption among the Zesa employees themselves. The technology is not the problem.
“If the workers are paid well enough, I do not see a reason why they would go around soliciting bribes. Addressing this problem will go some way in ensuring the problem is resolved.”
University of Zimbabwe electrical engineering chairman Engineer Golden Kapungu said smart meters could address problems associated with electricity theft and revenue leakages.
“I think the installation of smart meters is of paramount importance because the power utility will be able to establish what will be happening with electricity consumption.
“Maybe the problem will be that of funding because these smart meters also need to be connected to the smart grid. So, I am not sure whether we have the capacity to sponsor such a kind of system upgrading.
“With smart meters, the power utility will know who is doing what with the system.”
According to Eng Kapungu, smart meters are programmed to send signals to the central system if consumers receive electricity for free.
The multi-functional device can detect any fault within the grid, they can also monitor consumption of electricity by consumers and reverse power generation.
“Consumers can also choose to use electricity, say, for lighting and switch off other gadgets like stoves. The device reports to the central system if any problem is encountered, making it difficult to by-pass the metering system.
“It also influences consumption patterns because consumers will use electricity sparingly.”
However, his opinion was contradicted by Mr Tendekai Muchenje, a software engineer based in the United States, who explained that smart meters were not developed to deal with problems such as manual by-passing since even a smart meter can also be by-passed. He instead advocated for the use of analytical software to monitor purchasing behaviour.
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