Metering systems address capacity problems in Kuwait
Kuwait has a population of 2 million, of whom 1.3 million are migrant workers. The kingdom is 100% electrified – there are 350 000 electricity customers and 95 000 water customers. Five power stations deliver a total of 7200 MW a day, while the five desalination plans produce 260 million imperial gallons a day.
The weather is extremely hot from April to September, with temperatures routinely reaching over 40°C. Because of this, most houses have three phase supplies for their air conditioning systems. Air conditioning constitutes 75% of the summer load; the winter load is only 25-30% of the summer load, and therefore maintenance is done during the winter months.
At present all tariffs for domestic customers are straight-line tariffs. Electricity costs 2 fils per kWh (approximately 6.5 cents US), while water costs 800 fils for 1000 imperial gallons (approximately US$26). Industrial users are subsidised by the government, which seeks to encourage people to open factories within Kuwait rather than relying on imports.
In order to solve its metering problems, the Ministry of Electricity and Water is investigating both prepayment and automatic meter reading. There are many remote meters which are read only once a year at present, with the obvious burden on these consumers. The Ministry recognises the need to ensure that the new tariff proposals will not adversely affect consumers with a low income and/or low consumption, and the plan is to design special tariffs for this group.
Effects of the Gulf War
Kuwait was invaded in 1991. Power generation was severely affected, because there was either total or partial damage to most of the installations. Many substations were damaged, and transformers and equipment had to be imported before supply could be restored. A magnificent effort saw supply restored to Kuwait City within 2-3 weeks; the rest of the country was back to normal in 3-4 months.
However, the metering database was down for two years after the invasion, and therefore paper based manual billing was the order of the day during that time. It was fortunate that certain people had managed to get the back-up data tapes out of Kuwait the day the invasion began, so customer and billing information was available up to the day before the invasion.
Today tapes are backed up every day, and stored in multiple locations for security reasons.
No bills were sent out during the period of the invasion. The government took the decision to cancel all debts, so everyone started with a clean slate. (This applied to any debt, not just electricity and water.)
The Ministry believes that the time is now right to influence consumption patterns through the introduction of multiple tariffs. In addition it is keen to streamline its billing and administration systems for improved customer service.
At present meters are read twice a year, and a bill is generated once a year. The bills are divided into two parts – the retrospective bill, which the consumer must pay, and an estimate of future consumption, which the consumer can pay at that stage if he wants to – the choice is his.
Meter reading is done manually, and the data is entered into books by hand. When the books reach the area offices the data is captured onto computers. The Ministry believes it can significantly reduce both numbers of staff and numbers of mistakes by the meter readers and/or data capture clerks, if it introduces new metering and billing systems.
Both automatic meter reading and prepayment meter reading for domestic customers are being considered. Prepayment will be particularly useful in remote areas and areas where there is a constant change of tenants, such as near universities, and systems are being trialled at the moment.
We are most grateful to Ahmed Al-Mershed, assistant undersecretary, consumer affairs, Kuwait Ministry of Electricity and Water, for providing the information for this article.