The way you pay your electricity bill and even the way you look at electricity or gas may soon be in for a change, courtesy, smart meters. This may be because the world is increasingly moving towards prepayment meters, and the trend has been observed in several countries including US, Great Britain, South Africa and Australia.
To begin with, a conventional meter reading system uses a smart card or a token to recharge the prepaid meter. The level of credit inside the meter will be deducted according to the tariff as programmed for the respective customer. The prepaid meter contains a hardware which can be used to recharge and determine the remaining credit on the customer account. The rate at which the customers are billed is also configured at the meter hardware. Hence a field visit or a meter exchange is required if the customers need to opt for alternate rate plans. Using this system, the utility providing the service also benefits as a result of improved operational efficiencies, call center efficiency, reduction of financial risks, etc.
However, there are inherent disadvantages in this system, ranging from additional hardware costs to maintenance costs, safety issues and inconveniences associated with recharging the cards. These issues can be better addressed and rectified by the usage of smart grids.
Smart grid opens up a new genre of a prepaid metering system for the utility, which provides a win-win situation both for the utility as well as the customer, and the regulators too. If you are wondering how, these benefits are realized by working with the backend systems rather than the meter itself. A simple smart meter with remote connect-disconnect switch can perform the function of a prepaid meter, and this will essentially address many of the disadvantages of the existing prepayment metering system.
A smart prepayment system has many benefits, ranging from reduction in costs for hardware, maintenance and field costs to providing customers the luxury to switch between credit meters and prepaid meters. Customers can also opt for different rate plans, and use multiple channels for payment, among other advantages. And coming to utilities, they do not require smart prepaid meters to serve the prepaid customers. They can also calculate the credit left on the prepayment account and can initiate necessary actions like generating alerts, performing disconnect/reconnect, etc. This function is also extensible to provide meter independent services like charging the vehicles at the charging station using the same prepaid account.
So considering the many advantages provided by this system, one can safely say that we are entering the era of smart prepaid services, and one can well see more and more countries embracing this in the near future.