Nearly 100 000 houses in Harare and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe have looped connections that are not compatible with prepaid metering technology, making it difficult for Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) to install new metering units. Looped connections are a system where multiple houses are connected to one bulk meter.

This comes as the power utility has installed 532 000 prepaid meters countrywide at a cost of $71 million since August 2012 and is preparing to switch to smart meters to curb the circumvention of the billing system by consumers.

According to the Zim-Asset prepaid meter target base, Zesa has to install 800 000 meters, 500 000 of which will be prepaid meters, while 300 000 will be smart meters.

Zesa spokesperson, Fullard Gwasira, stated that outstanding installation premises were predominantly in older suburbs in these cities. “The outstanding installations encompass mostly the older suburbs which have looped connections that are not compatible with the prepaid metering technology,” he said.

“In Harare, there are 32 000 such customers whilst Bulawayo has 55 000 consumers on the looped system. The Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC), is working towards ensuring that those suburbs have electricity systems that are in sync with the prepaid metering technology so that these consumers are serviced.”

He said power theft, which is costing Zesa $10 million monthly, would be minimised through the installation of smart meters. Unlike prepaid meters, the smart metering technology reports back to the centre any power theft or meter by-passing by consumers. “The project will commence once due processes by the State Procurement Board have been finalised.”

The power utility is determined to ensure that it offers a quality service to all its consumers, and the conversion of power supply from post-paid to prepaid systems in one such initiative which has been implemented.

Gwasira further stated that, “ZETDC is going to roll out the installations without going the route of a pilot project as it has been established that the system is already proven and it would be to the advantage of both our consumers as well as having revenue protection mechanism for the power utility. Such a win-win position makes it a sound business move to roll out the project.”

Smart metering is common in Europe but a number of African countries such as Botswana, South Africa and Malawi have adopted the same technology.

Gwasira said meters were being installed on poles in areas that had high cases of meter tampering. “In areas that have low tampering of prepaid meters, the utility is not using the pole mounting strategy at the moment, though this position may be reviewed in future,” he said.

“In the meantime, alternative security systems that I am not at liberty to disclose, have been deployed to ensure that meters are tamper-proof and instantly give feedback once any criminal activity has been attempted to consume electricity for free.”