New metering system is actually quite smart

2010-03-11 00:00

THE article appearing in your features section on March 9, titled “Not very smart” by Babs Sithapersad refers:

Sithapersad provides a commentary on various aspects of the smart metering project currently being undertaken by the Msunduzi Municipality.

In order to correct the numerous factual inaccuracies and innuendo created by Sithapersad, who obviously has a complete lack of understanding and know- ledge not only of smart metering but also of the Standard Transfer Specific (STS) Association, the NRS 049 Smart Meter specification as well as the process followed by the Msunduzi Municipality in awarding this contract to our company Unique Mbane SA, we hereby provide the salient and correct facts relevant to this matter.

Unique Mbane SA was awarded this contract PU 79 OF 07/08 after having participated in a thorough and transparent proposal call for a high-technology electricity and water meter management system for the Msunduzi Municipality. Prior to the award of the contract, representatives of the supply chain management, electricity, finance and water departments of the municipality embarked on a fact-finding mission to visit sites of the shortlisted suppliers. Only after having satisfied themselves that the system supplied by Unique Mbane SA was a tried and tested system that provides value for money, did the municipality award the contract to our company. The award of this contract complied fully with all the supply chain and legal requirements of the Municipal Finance Management Act and was not “sneaked in” by the chief financial­ officer or the municipal manager as is alleged by Sithapersad. A cursory­ glance at the documentation regarding this contract will confirm this. The award of the contract was officially made as far back as March 17, 2009. Political representatives from all political parties are fully aware of this technology and the benefits it holds for the ratepayers, citizens and the municipality. Unique Mbane SA has presented this technology and other benefits to the full council of the Msunduzi Municipality and has in areas­ of installation conducted various public participation exercises designed to inform consumers of the technology and its benefits.

The purpose of introducing this technology was, firstly, to deal decisively with the revenue-collection process of the municipality and, secondly, to deal decisively with the energy-management requirements as mandated by the September 2008 amendment to the electricity regulation act that requires the implementation of Smart Meter systems by January 1, 2012.

The STS Association, of which Unique Mbane SA currently holds a directorship position, is an industry association that serves to ensure standardisation and uniformity of prepayment electricity vending and metering technology in South Africa governing prepayment vending systems and all prepayment meters. In this regard all the meters supplied by Unique Mbane SA to the Msunduzi Municipality under this contract are in fact fully STS certified, having passed the necessary certification tests that were conducted by the key management centre at Eskom. Had Sithapersad possessed even the most basic level of intelligence needed to conduct a simple perusal of the STS website, this would have been confirmed.

The fact that the membership of our company is currently suspended is due simply to an administrative mishap that has been corrected. Unique Mbane has been a member in good standing of the STS Association for quite some years and one of our directors serves as a director of the STS Association. The STS Association has no need for the services of an ignoramus such as Sithapersad who without having any semblance of knowledge seeks to speak on behalf of the association without having been requested to do so.

Sithapersad displays an amazing level of ignorance and personal vendetta in his attack on the chief financial officer. The project is conducted under the control of a project steering committee chaired by the chief financial officer and consists of technically competent representatives from the departments of finance, electricity, water, information technology and supply chain management together with representatives from the supplier. Additionally, two councillors serve on the committee to provide feedback on all developments to the full council meetings where required.

NRS 049 is an SABS finalised and published standard for Smart Meters as approved towards the end of 2008. Again, had Sithapersad made the effort to inform himself adequately he would have noticed that this publication is available for purchase from the SABS as a published standard. This standard came into being after extensive consultation between both industry participants and the regulators of industry standards. In accordance with good practice, the current published version makes provision for changes and enhancements as required by future developments. Most professional suppliers participate in these industry forums to ensure continuous evolution of products to meet situational needs. A recent Durban High Court outcome confirms the existence of the finalised and published current version of NRS 049 as the defining standard for smart meters in South Africa­.

One wonders whether Sithapersad has even read the requirements of NRS 049 or of the process leading up to its finalisation and publication. Had he done so he would not have been the fool he is to comment on matters on which he is clearly not equipped to.

We cannot agree more with Sithapersad that “NRS 049 is crucial on ratepayers’ pockets”. It is for this very reason, among others, that NRS 049 has been finalised­ and published. It is worth noting that in the recently awarded Eskom smart metering contract compliance, with NRS 049 was a deciding criterion. Perhaps Sithapersad is not aware that Unique Mbane was awarded the Eskom smart metering contract precisely because its products are in compliance with the requirements of NRS 049.

Sithapersad waxes lyrical about the congress designated to take place in San Diego shortly. Almost all metering conventions held over the past five years or so have dedicated forums and invited qualified professionals to deliver papers on issues of smart metering and smart grids. As in most industry forums these events seek to contextualise the constantly changing environment of electricity metering as a means of enhancing and improving on products to meet these changing needs. It may surprise Sithapersad to know that South Africa is a leading player in the global smart metering industry with companies such as Unique Mbane SA currently engaged in various international jurisdictions with our products.

It would no doubt surprise Sithapersad, our self-proclaimed expert on smart metering, that Eskom and our national treasury regard smart metering as a key intervention towards sustainable revenue protection and energy security protection. This is based on professional research conducted by qualified experts in this field. Contrary to the vitriolic garbage he spills in his speculative article, many municipalities have either already tendered for the provision of Smart Meters or are currently in the process of doing so.

One of the primary benefits of smart metering to consumers is the ability of the system to implement time of use metering that allows consumers to manage electricity usage according to differential tariffs­. This would, especially in these times of rising electricity costs, enable consumers to reduce dramatically the cost of electricity consumption. One would expect Sithapersad as a representative of a civic body to comment on these attributes that benefit consumers and ratepayers rather than on inaccurate nonsense.

Many of the official and political office bearers in our national, provincial and local government institutions, including those in Msunduzi, work extremely diligently, often for scant reward and appreciation, to better the lives of our communities. It is also imperative that our civic institutions­ and persons who hold responsible positions in these institutions parti- cipate and engage constructively in the process of providing a better life for all instead of engaging in unfounded attacks on our people’s representatives and hard- working officials. Such attacks as these by Sithapersad are based on inaccurate and misleading information and one is therefore forced to question the real motives­ and hidden agenda behind this vitriolic nonsense of Sithapersad.

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