Late last year we reported on the issue of the electricity meter issue facing the country, the original article below... and with JB Marks council finally announcing the implementation of the program today to avert the situation we described, there seems to have arisen more questions from the public.
This week we will publish an update on the article and answer some of the most common questions, so do watch this space.
Herewith the original article that provides some details on the program, as published last year.
POTCHEFSTROOM – In a disheartening revelation, it appears that South Africa, including our local region, is on the cusp of a major electricity vending dilemma. By November 2024, millions of STS-compliant prepaid electricity meters will stop functioning, plummeting municipal electricity sale revenues to zero, and possibly leading to households being plunged into possible darkness yet again for completely different reasons.
But how did we reach this point? Here's an overview of the background leading to this looming crisis:
Origins of the System:
In 1993, a new wave of prepaid electricity meters was launched in South Africa. These were designed to be tamper-proof and offered consumers the ease of paying for their electricity upfront, much like how prepaid mobile services work.
The Unique Code System:
The core design of these meters relies on a system that ensures every electricity voucher code entered is unique. This not only allowed consumers to pay for and vend electricity based on their needs but also protected against fraud.
The Time-Stamp Dilemma:
A key part of ensuring the uniqueness of every code was linking a section of the 20-digit token that users enter to the minute the token was purchased. However, this system had an inherent limitation. The designers allotted two bytes of space for the time segment of the token, which translates to 16,777,216 unique minutes, or roughly 31.92 years.
Inbuilt Expiry Date:
The system's architecture thus means these meters come with an inherent expiry date, calculated from their inception date in 1993. This brings us to a total shut-off on 24 November 2024 when these meters will run out of unique minutes and subsequently, stop functioning.
Although this is a significant issue in South Africa, where 10 million such meters are in operation, this is a global concern. Around 70 million meters worldwide are expected to be hit by this expiry.
The STSA's Proposed Solution:
The Standard Transfer Specification Association (STSA) came up with an update to the system. This aims to change the base date for the token ID from 1993 to 2014, adding another two decades to the meters' functionality.
While the solution sounds straightforward, the reality is far from it. Each meter needs to be manually updated as remote updates aren't possible. Eskom, the primary electricity public utility, has been aware of this looming challenge for nearly a decade. However, out of the 6.5 million meters under its jurisdiction, very few have been updated.
Municipalities' Slow Response:
Despite 167 licensed distribution zones in the country, only 43 municipalities have started the necessary update projects. This lax response rate exacerbates the urgency of the situation.
For Potchefstroom residents, the implications are serious. The SALGA dashboard indicates the JB Marks municipality has approximately 42,606 meters requiring updates. Regrettably, only 5,704 meters have seen these changes. Given the looming deadline, this equates to an target of resetting about 2,460 meters monthly.
South African Local Government Association (SALGA)
In July 2021, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) undertook a comprehensive survey to gauge the current status of the Standard Transfer Specification (STS) prepayment meters TID rollover in South African municipalities. The survey came in anticipation of the critical 2024 TID rollover milestone.
From the study, it emerged that South Africa has over 3.09 million prepaid meters in place. Notably, a limited number of municipalities have initiated the TID rollover process, with a significant proportion of these being located in regions like the Western Cape, Gauteng, and Kwazulu Natal.
In light of these findings, on 24th March 2022, SALGA organized a workshop. This assembly aimed not only to discern the progress made by both municipalities and Eskom in the prepayment meter reset initiative but also to inaugurate the SALGA dashboard for the STS prepayment meter reset project.
During this workshop, collaborative discussions unearthed the shared challenges municipalities face. Recognizing the mutual hurdles, the workshop underscored the importance of municipalities sharing insights and learning from each other's experiences.
SALGA Tracking Dashboard
A significant outcome of these efforts is the SALGA-established dashboard. It provides real-time data on the TID rollover meter reset, detailing metrics such as the total meters set for a reset, meters reset per municipality, and those still outstanding. With a commitment to regularly updating this dashboard, SALGA comitted to gather data from municipalities every quarter via an online questionnaire. The association urged municipalities to actively participate by filling out the questionnaire available through the provided link.
The Go-To Guy will gain input from relevant role-players and update community on its findings... the little friendly man at the start of the article we use to express that we do have hope that indeed we will get going and solve this issue and not leave it to the last minute... in our view the prepaid vendors should issue these codes with electricity purchases now so we can enter the codes and identify any user or other issues that may appear.