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Uganda's retail power distributor Umeme Power Company is reported to be investing US$24mn in automated meter-reading technology that uses smart meters to help it curb energy losses among large commercial consumers
A smart meter records consumption of electric energy, relaying that information back to the company for monitoring and billing. It also allows for two-way communication between customers and the utility provider's server. The technology should enable more timely and accurate meter reading and billing; identification of power theft; assist in remote access for meter installations: verification of off-taker invoices and revenues; and generally improve customer services.
“Large and commercial customers accounted for 67 per cent of Umeme's US$30mn monthly revenues. There were instances of non-standard and low quality installations which led to energy losses, but this technology will secure high value customers," Robert Mubiru, Umeme’s automated meter-reading project manager, told New Vision, a government-run publication.
He said up to 13,000 industrial and commercial customers will be converted by 2018 to reduce losses by 56.0 gigawatt hours; so far, up to 1,500 industrial and large customers have been converted to the new system, which started in 2014.
The company's managing director, Selestino Babungi, stressed that their plan is to deploy technology for optimising business operations and providing a better customer experience.
"The ability to monitor customer consumption and status of metering installations enable real time responses in cases of power thefts. Customers can track their electricity consumption and avoid heavy consumption at peak hours, when tariffs are high, thus reducing their electricity bills."
Babungi says vandalism is a national problem, which amounts to an economic crime, frustrating the company's customers through prolonged power outages caused by the power thieves.
In the meantime, the government is debating a new law that will see power thieves facing a 10-year jail sentence in addition to paying for the power stolen if the law is passed by parliament.
Energy minister, Irene Muloni, is reported to have said the cabinet had already worked out an amendment to the Electricity Act 1999 to introduce tougher penalties in order to assist Umeme in reducing technical and commercial losses. Company officials say the penalties for power theft and illegal connections in Uganda are currently among the lowest in the region, which encourages power thieves.