Meralco: ‘Bill shock’ could have been avoided with smart meters
Danessa Rivera (The Philippine Star) - May 25, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Amid complaints of high electricity bills in May,  Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) said  the “bill shock” could have been avoided had the rollout of more smart meters, which is still waiting for the approval of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), was in place across its franchise area.

According to Meralco first vice president and head of customer retail services and corporate communications Victor Genuino, technology should have been the answer to the meter reading estimation and bill shock woes of Meralco, or any distribution utility (DU).

“If we have smart meters in place, we don’t need to estimate the consumption during the quarantine period and we no longer need to send meter readers out because we will be able to determine customers’ consumption via remote reading,” he said.

Customers of Meralco have complained of “unusually high” electricity bills this month. The power distributor has since explained that the May billing reflects the full impact of the enhanced community quarantine plus the adjustments from March and April.

Meralco is under investigation by the ERC, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Senate Committee on Energy for complaints of high electricity bills this month from its customers.

“This is also a learning for Meralco,” Genuino said, adding that “if this were to happen again, this smart metering solution would be our best defense to avoid a similar circumstance.”

As part of a program to automate its massive distribution network, Meralco rolled out its smart meter program in 2015, starting with prepaid meters within its franchise area.

The prepaid meter system allows customers to monitor their electricity consumption, allowing them to budget their consumption and expenses. It will also enable them to monitor their electricity consumption as it happens.

Based on Meralco’s consumer research, customers who shifted from postpaid to prepaid are able to effectively monitor their consumption daily via SMS and as a result, they can save an average of 20 percent on electricity consumption, translating to total savings of around P300 per customer.

With the strong demand for prepaid meters, Meralco has set a target of 3.3 million smart meters by 2024—or half of its 6.9 million customer count as of end-March—in a bid to transform its network into a smart grid.

In March 2017, Meralco had asked the approval of the ERC to roll out more prepaid meters and to implement its Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) for its Smart Grid Journey to 2027 program, which lays down plans for technology innovations to improve operations and services.

Under its applications, Meralco had asked the approval of the ERC to roll out one million smart meters across its franchise area.

The AMI , which was promulgated in May 2016, requires the approval of the ERC prior to the implementation of any AMI project.

However, in 2019, the ERC said it needed to conduct a thorough cost evaluation of Meralco’s AMI project.

When asked for updates on Meralco’s AMI project, ERC spokesperson Floresinda Digal said the project is still undergoing the evaluation of the ERC. “I know the ERC is already working on this very hard,” Meralco first vice president and regulatory management head Jose Ronald Valles said.

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