MANILA, Philippines --- Prepaid electricity is affordable, accessible, and surprisingly efficient – although inherent qualities of the concept keep it from becoming everyone’s cup of (electrici)tea, at least for the moment.
But it is already a reality, albeit in a pilot test stage, to residents of some 300 homes in 12 towns in the municipality of Calaca, Batangas. And yes, maintaining prepaid electricity service is as easy as reloading credits to your prepaid mobile phone.
Batangas Electric Cooperative 1 (Batelec 1), the distribution utility (DU) that powers Calaca, is using the text message-based prepaid electricity system of Xen Energy Systems, Inc. (XESI), a Makati City-based online e-Commerce solutions firm that has ties to both the country’s power and telecommunications industries.
“Prepaid Retail Electricity System (PRES)” is the proper technical term, but XESI calls its system simply as “Kuryentxt.”
Frank Dianko, XESI business development manager, said that the company has presented Kuryentxt to at least 45 out of the 80 Class A electric cooperatives in the Philippines.
Currently, Batelec 1 is one of two DUs in the country (the other one being Bohol Electric Cooperative II) that have formally filed for the authority to implement prepaid electricity to its franchise area before the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
Both applications are still pending, although Dianko bared that these continue to be heard by the Commission.
“There are DUs that are ready to receive customers and are ready to implement this (once they receive approval from the ERC),” he said.
‘Like Buying e-Load’
Basically, Kuryentxt applies the convenience of prepaid phone service to household electricity. “Think of it as buying your cellphone ‘e-loads’. It is that simple,” Dianko said.
To load credits to your electric meter, a customer needs only to go to the nearest sari-sari store and give the retailer his or her meter number (which, in a prepaid phone setting, is equivalent to your mobile phone number). The customer may choose to buy denominations of P100, P200 or P300.
Using a mobile phone, the retailer from the store then sends a text message to the system, which, after verification, loads the credits brought by the customer. Just like a mobile phone service provider would.
Since loading can be done wherever there is a store or retailer in sight, customers no longer have to commute to and fro their DU to pay electric bills. They save time, money and effort as a result.
Looking a lot like traditional electricity meters, prepaid electricity meters contain information such as time and date, electric consumption and of course, credit balance. This allows customers to closely monitor load usage.
Batelec 1 is currently borrowing 300 of these meters from XESI, free of charge.
“Once a DU is authorized by the ERC, it would have to procure its own prepaid meters elsewhere,” he said, noting that XESI is not in the business of selling the meters but in fact makes a profit as users purchase more load.
The company’s stock of prepaid meters was supplied by a partner firm from China, Dianko said.
Exactly how long does P100 worth of electricity credits last?
Frank Dianko, XESI business development manager, said this depends on the number and type of appliances that one has.
“For a house in the province that only has one light bulb, P100 could last as long as three months. If the house has a light, a television, and an electric fan, then P100 may be good enough for two to three days,” he said.
Customers will be charged a certain amount per kilowatt hour (kWh), or in the case of Batelec 1, around P8.90 per kWh.
Feedback from users has been positive, Dianko bared. “People from the pilot areas whom we’ve talked to said that they’re now paying less for electricity compared to the time when they had traditional connection.”
Prepaid electricity users also need not worry about disconnections during ungodly hours at night even when their credits have been fully consumed.
“There will be no nighttime disconnections, or disconnections during which time that sari-sari stores have already closed. Electricity service will continue up until the morning when customers have the opportunity to reload. The balance will be automatically adjusted depending on how much was consumed the night prior.”
Unlike cellphone load, Kuryentxt load will have no expiry date, according to Dianko. “You can leave your house with P30 worth of load, go on vacation for three months, and still find P30 when you come back.”
Kuryentxt users can also avail of special services (with additional charge) that can be accessed by first registering the customer’s mobile phone number to XESI’s user database.
Once registered, the customer can remotely activate a series of system commands by texting keywords to an access code given by his or her mobile phone service provider.
These keywords include “KWDISCONNECT” (remotely disconnects power service), “KWCONNECT” (remotely connects power service), “KWBAL” (sends available balance inquiry) and “KWALERTS” (automatically sends text advisories when balance is about to be depleted).
Not For Everyone…Yet
While all these make prepaid electricity very enticing, XESI disclosed that its target market are the “marginalized” consumers, those that are daily or weekly paid workers.
“Cash does not come easy with these people. These are the primary beneficiaries of prepaid electric system,” pointed out Dianko.
He said that Kuryentxt is tailor-made for households with a monthly electric bill of P800 to P1,200, which makes up for the majority (around 60 to 80 percent) of the consumers of the 45 electric cooperatives that XESI has approached.
The business model – particularly with its relatively low load denominations – may not be practical for families living in Metro Manila whose power bills reach up to P5,000 or higher. At least for now.
“These people wouldn’t want to load P100 repeatedly in one day. That would be a bother. So it’s not for everyone,” Dianko said, noting that a load of P100 could last only a few hours with an air-conditioning unit turned on.
However, this does not mean that prepaid electricity will never see the light of day in the metropolis. Meralco, which distributes power to some four million homes in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, is already developing its own PRES.
“We also talked to them but after seeing our system, they told us that they want to make their own,” the XESI official said of Meralco.
He added that plans to put up load denominations of P1,000, P3,000, and P5,000 are now on the drawing board to allow Kuryentxt to cater to bigger consumers of electricity.
In the end, Dianko said that it would be up to the consumer which type of electricity connection he or she would prefer – traditional/post-paid, or prepaid – for as long as the distribution utility has both services available.
Now that’s the power to choose.