Prepaid electricity nightmare for South Africa

 ·11 Jun 2024

Many of the 11.64 million prepaid electricity meters in South Africa may cease to function after 24 November 2024 if they do not receive a critical update on time, and it seems things aren’t moving fast enough to avoid disaster.

Effective 24 November 2024, all prepayment meters using Standard Transfer Specifications-compliant (STS) technology will cease dispensing electricity.

This poses a significant risk to the service levels, sales, and revenue collection of municipalities and end-user customers in the electricity utilities sector.

The TID, which is based on a reference date of 1993, will reach its limit in 2024, known as the TID Rollover event. When this happens, prepayment meters will no longer be able to accept new tokens.

As a result, the meters will stop accepting new credit tokens and will stop dispensing electricity once the existing credits are used up.

Any tokens generated after this date, which use the 24-digit TID calculated based on the 1993 reference date, will be rejected by the meters as old tokens because the TID value encoded in the token will have reset back to 0.

To resolve this issue, electricity distributors such as Eskom and municipalities are asking their customers to update the meters by entering a 20-digit KRN code similar to a regular electricity credit token.

These codes are being provided to customers in phases through the same channels used for regular electricity purchases.

Eskom and the municipalities have also deployed teams to help households upgrade their meters.

Progress

Electricity distributors were told to update their prepaid meters over ten years ago, but many only started the KRN rollover process in the past few years.

Eskom, which has nearly 6.9 million of the country’s 11.64 million meters, only began running a KRN rollover pilot in Gauteng a year ago.

At that time, only 5,800 of its direct customers’ prepaid meters had received their KRN codes.

But since then, the power utility has rapidly picked up the pace. By October 2023, the number had increased to 678,000 meters.

The latest data from Eskom’s online dashboard for the KRN rollover shows that as of 10 June 2024, 3.74 million out of 6.9 million prepaid meters have been updated, accounting for 54.2% of the total.

Meanwhile, the South African Local Government Association’s (Salga) KRN rollover dashboard indicates that 2.91 million out of 4.94 million prepaid meters supplied with electricity from municipalities have received the update, which is 59% of the total.

Eskom KRN rollover dashboard

Salga KRN rollover dashboard

Alarm bells

Overall, another 5.18 million prepaid meters need to be updated over the next five and a half months, at a rate of nearly 31,000 meters per day.

In the past month (13 May to 10 June), 170,000 meters have been updated, which means an average of about 6,071 Eskom prepaid meters were updated daily.

At this rate, approximately 1.02 million more meters will receive the update by 24th November 2024.

However, this could potentially leave hundreds of thousands of Eskom prepaid customers without the update by 24th November.

The KRN rollover rate in municipalities also shows a concerning trend. Over the same period, the number of updated meters has only increased by around 84,000.

If this pace continues over the next five and a half months, only another 500,000 of the remaining 2.02 million meters will be updated by 24th November.

Despite the worrying trends, Eskom reassures that it is making good progress in updating its direct customers’ prepaid meters to prevent them from malfunctioning on 24 November 2024.

Monde Bala, Eskom’s group executive for distribution, stated that the utility is urging and educating its customers to use the DIY recording process.

Bala also mentioned that Eskom’s teams are available to promptly help customers who are facing challenges and have logged queries with reference numbers.

The utility has stated its commitment to maintaining a rapid pace in ensuring that all its meters are recoded before the deadline.

EskomMunicipalities
Completed3 747 6832 914 503
Daily rollover rate6 0713 000
Estimated additional KRN rollovers by 24 November 2024 1 013 857501 000
Estimated total KRN rollover4 761 5403 415 503
Estimated prepaid meters outstanding2 138 4601 524 580

Read: Warning over Eskom’s ‘well-lit’ death spiral

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