THE ministry of Energy and Power Development will in January next year float tenders for a smart metering project for electricity payment despite long -standing concerns about the huge cost at US$400 per household for the metering units, as well as their efficacy, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
Sources at the ministry this week told this paper that despite concerns about the high cost and effectiveness of the proposed smart meters, the ministry is pushing for their introduction to replace existing pre-paid meters claiming that they are more secure and cannot be easily tampered with like pre-paid ones.
“The country has not finished rolling out a programme for pre-paid electricity but (Energy minister Dzikamai) Mavhaire is already planning to introduce the newer, more expensive system, insisting that it is far more secure and less susceptible to tampering by consumers,” said a source.
Mavhaire confirmed to this paper in an interview a fortnight ago that the tender process would commence in January, saying his ministry is forging ahead with the project because smart metering is “part of the advanced technology” which countries the world over are adopting.
He rejected arguments that the exercise would be costly, but refused to say how much or which companies would implement the project.
However, experts in the energy sector who have spoken to this paper have repeatedly raised red flags over the proposal, citing the expense as well as the fact that the new technology is generally unproven.
“The unit will cost the ordinary consumer at least US$400,” said a source, who also noted the ministry was considering staggering payments for installation to reduce the burden on a hard-pressed public suffering from the country’s relentless economic crisis.
“Apart from cost, Zimbabwe is making the mistake of rushing to adopt new technology that is untried. There is an outcry over the issue even in more economically developed countries like the UK,” the source added. In March Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company engineers told this paper that the country was not ready for smart meters as the system had technical risks in addition to expense. They recommended that Zesa “continues with standard pre-paid metering for now”, warning “it’s too risky to introduce smart-metering at the moment.”
Back in 2010, when accounting firm Deloitte & Touche was commissioned by Zesa to carry out a study to evaluate the proposal, the cost of smart-metering project was estimated at US$450 million compared to US$75 million for the pre-paid option to install the same number of meters.
However, Mavhaire insisted: “It is the mentality of crooks that have been stealing electricity.
“The same critics spoke ill of the mandatory blending of petrol and ethanol saying it was expensive and destroying motor vehicles. However, the country has been saved of millions through the mandatory blending and no cars have been harmed by the product.”