Let my meter go backwards

2009-10-22 00:00

IN the Public Enterprise Committee, I told Eskom to let our electricity meters go backwards if we produce our own electricity.

In countries employing them, reverse electricity meters go backwards when the consumer produces his or her own electricity, for instance by means of windmills or solar panels.

In such cases, the excess electricity produced by the consumer can be fed back into the grid, creating a credit for the consumer. This enables the consumer to draw from the grid when his or her device does not generate electricity, for instance when there is no sun or wind, while feeding back the excess electricity into the grid when his or her device works. This means that the consumer becomes self-

sufficient from an electricity viewpoint.

Eskom answered that they have considered the idea, but they are negotiating with the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) to have a tariff credit system for the consumer who also produces. I replied that the notion of tariffs can be taken out of the equation by the meter merely registering units backwards or forwards, irrespective of tariffs.

Eskom retorted that the tariff credit would enable the consumer-producer to receive greater credit for the electricity he or she produces so as to incentivise him or her. However, this too is not necessary as reverse meters can have a different resistance so that they move forwards slower than they do backwards, which means that when producing electricity, the consumer-producer receives a greater credit against electricity he consumes.

It is clear to me that, like all monopolies, Eskom is unwilling to open up the market to enable consumers to become producers. One of the arguments advanced by Eskom in the committee was that this solution would only be available to the rich, which shows Eskom is approaching this issue with the monopolist’s typically retentive attitude.

With tariffs skyrocketing the way they are, it will become viable even for larger households to produce their own electricity by means of windmills or solar panels. A hundred thousand households doing so can benefit all, both in reducing the cost for additional electrical plants, and reducing the dependence on fossil fuel, promoting renewable energy while reducing the load on the grid.

Great emphasis has thus far been placed on the crisis on the generation side of the electricity cycle, while overlooking that the grid is also in a terrible state. There is no money for the required upkeep and upgrades. Today’s power generation crisis is bound to become a grid crisis once additional plans come online.

Therefore, decentralising production through local plants is of vital importance and one must not underestimate the contribution that independent producers, even at the household level, can make.

However, this requires changing Eskom’s attitudes. Eskom must stop making excuses such as those which have thus far prevented the installation of reverse meters.

Like in other countries, in the end it may just happen that reverse meters will be forced into existence through illegal processes as people tamper with their meters or substitute them with meters capable of going backwards. When challenged in court, they will have as a defence that meters record units delivered and they have returned units they have consumed and therefore ought not to be charged. Hence, as there is no damage there is no fraud.

In would be nice if, on this issue, government worked for the people and with the people, not against them.

• Mario Ambrosini is an IFP member of Parliament.

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