by Jose ANTONIO T. Valdez
More Meralco customers power up with new scheme
Imagine a service that lets a customer closely control the amount of electricity consumed on a daily, even an hourly, basis. No bill shock, no worrying about going over budget, no anxieties about getting disconnected for late payment.
These are some of the benefits of the Manila Electric Co.’s (Meralco) prepaid electricity service. It’s a convenience similar to a host of prepaid services with which many consumers today are familiar, such as mobile phone services, cable TV, and expressway toll fees.
Advanced and automatic
Meralco prepaid electricity customers simply buy their load from licensed electronic load (e-load) retailers (such as convenience stores, sari-sari stores and LBC outlets), and Meralco Business and Bayad Centers. It is just like how they would load their prepaid mobile phones.
Prepaid electricity provides customers with daily updates on electricity consumption and on remaining load via SMS, and sends an alert when the load balance falls to a low level. These updates provide customers the impetus to reduce their power usage by up to 20 percent and save as much as P400 per month, thanks to improved monitoring.
“With prepaid electricity, our residents become aware of their consumption, how to budget their everyday needs,” recounts Rudy Niu, president and co-owner of First Golden Achievers and Development Corp., developer of the Malate Adriatico Grand Residences, Edsa Grand Residences, and Grand Residences España. “They learn to spend less on other things to be able to pay their electric bills. In the past, we encountered difficulties every time we have a disconnection, and it cost time and money to get reconnected. Now, reconnection is just a matter of hours.”
All this is possible thanks to the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) that Meralco is gradually putting in place throughout its franchise areas. It’s a technology that’s been around for some time, with most of the power utilities in the United States and Europe in its final stages of rolling out the service.
AMI also makes Meralco’s service more reliable. Once fully deployed, it can provide immediate alerts if a customer or an area has an outage, and reduce the restoration turnaround time. Customers will no longer need to call to report a brownout!
Recognition and approval
Meralco’s AMI strategy and prepaid electricity have been recognized in the Asian and European Utility Weeks, an annual convention of utilities, as being both pioneering and ground-breaking. The service has notched 90 percent approval ratings from customers who find it convenient and life-changing; most of them find it easy to handle the most common payment scheme of a P100 top-up every two or three days.
“Meralco’s vision is to make its service simple, fast, and convenient,” declares Alfredo S. Panlilio, Meralco senior vice president and head, Customer Retail Services and Corporate Communications. “We aim to have all our customers connected via smart meter by the year 2024. Postpaid customers will also benefit from smart meters, as they can access their hourly consumption through a Meralco portal and app, similar to online banking services.”
50K and counting
Thus far, Meralco has installed the 50,000 smart meters that make prepaid electricity possible. It’s a significant milestone, as it completes the first tranche of smart-meter installations approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). The ERC recently approved another, more ambitious batch of 100,000 smart meters.
Luis Miguel Gonzalez, vice president of Century Properties Management Construction Corp., believes in the service. “When the prepaid [meters were installed] in our Azure development, we already had three towers with the traditional meters,” he recalls. “[These were placed] only in the fourth and fifth towers.
“Sixty to seventy percent of our clientele are people who do not reside in the Philippines for the entire year. With the old system, they would have to pay for their electricity every month; with prepaid electricity, the customers are happier.”
He adds that their property management office reports fewer complaints about electricity bills and connections. “It’s an invention that had us thinking: why didn’t I think of that?”
More milestones ahead
In the same vein as prepaid electricity, the AMI is the backbone for new products and services. Meralco will soon develop Postpaid Plus for customers who wish to remain with this service option. An online dashboard, accessible from their mobile devices, lets customers monitor their household power consumption down to individual appliances in real time.
With ERC approval, the company looks to test a pilot postpaid plus service before the end of 2017. Other products in the pipeline are Home Area Network Assistance, and Demand Response Management for business and residential customers. It’s clear prepaid electricity is just the beginning of what is in store for Meralco customers under the AMI strategy. (With MC Santos)