Industry

Kenya Power turns to GPS in war on theft of electricity

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Installation of prepaid metering system is expected to cut the total amount of money owed to the utility firm by customers which grew by 87 per cent between June 2006 to 2011. FILE

Kenya Power will install Global Positioning System (GPS) technology into its meter-reading devices to curb electricity theft and boost collection.

The hand-held equipment will be used to track geographical positions of meters and will relay customers’ details like their location, readings and monthly bills to the central office.

This will help the electricity distributor to stop collusion between its meter readers and consumers as well as capture faulty infrastructure like transformers speedily.

“In the past we have relied on people who can locate these meters and collection of information has turned out to be slow,” said Rosemary Gitonga, chief manager of commercial services.

“The devices can also track technicians as they collect the data and this will check attempted collusion between them and customers on the ground.”

Kenya Power says it plans to have 730 devices across the country by the first quarter of next year with any additions to be determined by customer growth.

The firm has invited tenders from suppliers who besides supplying the devices and their software will complete installations and train engineers and technicians on their use.

Customers are also set to benefit from the project since the power distributor will now have the coordinates and exact directions of all their customers.

“It is difficult to locate a customer who has experienced a power supply problem since we relied on directions they give us or the memory of technicians who have visited the site. With the GPS information, tracking such customers will be a much faster process” added Ms Gitonga.

Kenya Power is in the process of installing pre-paid meters across the country with plans to increase them from the current 174,810 installed in the past three years to 520,000 over the next nine months.

READ: Kenya Power to add 520,000 pre-paid meters

This project, which it estimates will cost Sh5 billion, is their attempt to cut the risk of consumer default.

Kenya Power’s unpaid bills has risen to Sh7.4 billion in the year to June 2011 compared to Sh5.2 billion in a similar period the previous year, meaning that the additional bad debt was equivalent to 54 per cent of its Sh4.2 billion net profit.

The firm said it would raise the Sh5 billion needed to increase the prepaid meters to 694,810 from its reserves and fresh borrowings. Consumers on prepaid meters use power they have paid for in advance, similar to mobile air time top-ups, helping Kenya Power to receive its revenues in full.

Another institution using a similar technology to improve collection is the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) which piloting new electronic tax devices (ETRs) that transmit real time data every time a transaction is made.