By Dwibin Thomas, Cluster Automation Leader at Schneider Electric

As the country continues to fight the consequence of a volatile grid and subsequent power crisis, Eskom says it aims to roll out a smart meter in every home within the next four years.

The estimated R16 billion project hopes to recover more than 7 000MW into the grid. Importantly, according to the utility, the smart meters will utilise a management system which will allow consumers to decide when to use electricity based on how much it will cost. For users with smart prepaid meters, the amount used will be taken from a prepaid balance.

And this brings us to an interesting point, whilst most people have heard of or already use smart meters how do prepaid smart meters work and what are the benefits?

“A conventional prepaid metering system uses cards or an integrated keypad to recharge the prepaid meter. The prepaid meter offers the requisite hardware and software to recharge (bought from prepaid voucher providers) and determines the remaining credit on the customer account,” explains Dwibin Thomas, Cluster Automation Leader at Schneider Electric.

Unlike their prepaid cousins, smart prepaid meters provide real-time data on power consumption via a smart energy management system. This data can be accessed remotely, allowing users to proactively monitor their usage and adjust it accordingly.

“This is particularly beneficial to households and businesses that use hybrid solar/grid systems. A common complaint by prepaid users is that when they do switch over to a hybrid system, they don’t have real-time insight into the status of their prepaid account i.e., how many units are left,” he explains.

“Accessing the meter is only possible when the system is exclusively powered by the grid, which presents a significant limitation. This becomes problematic, for instance, when the solar system fails to charge adequately due to cloud cover, and the base load, such as battery storage, requires grid charging. If one is not present at the physical prepaid meter, it becomes impossible to determine the available units for charging batteries and ensuring uninterrupted power supply to homes or businesses during load shedding.” says Thomas.

Another important benefit of a smart prepaid meter is it provides users with information on their data consumption patterns, allowing households and businesses to make informed decisions on where energy can be saved or optimised.

And whilst this is not a new feature to “traditional” smart meters, it is not one that is currently available on traditional prepaid meters.

“Smart prepaid meters offer both tangible and intangible benefits. It has the capability to identify faulty wiring and detect unsafe electrical conditions which can prevent accidents and reduce the risk of electrical fires. Also, these smart prepaid meters incorporate robust encrypted security features that safeguard users’ personal and financial information, ensuring their privacy and data protection” says Thomas.

Smart prepaid meters undoubtedly provide a myriad of benefits, and the good news is making current prepaid meters smarter won’t require a forklift rollout.

“Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Advanced Metering Operation software architecture is meter agnostic and offers advanced integration to achieve effective, large-scale AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) deployment that lowers operational costs, improved end-customer services, and smarter, sustainable energy,” concludes Thomas.

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