There are two ways in which a municipality can take readings to bill consumers for electricity and water consumption, actual readings and estimates. Actual readings are taken when a municipal worker physically goes to a consumer’s property to take a reading from a meter or when there is a ‘smart meter’ that automatically transmits readings periodically to the municipality. Estimates, as the name would suggest, occur when meters are not physically read but instead a reading is estimated by an algorithm based on past metering data, which essentially results in a guessed reading.

 

Actual and estimated meter readings can often be wildly inaccurate and can both result in a bill that can leave consumers scratching their heads. For consumers to be billed correctly for their electricity and water consumption it is obviously quite important that meter reading data is captured accurately. Here we describe how this process can go wrong and what solutions are needed to avoid out of whack municipal bills

 

Inaccurate bills from estimated readings

If you have received an invoice with estimated readings that you believe do not remotely reflect the true reading as it appears on your meter, then you need to raise a billing query with the municipality concerned and request that it verify your actual readings, and bill you accordingly.

 

Inaccurate bills from actual readings

It’s easy to understand how bills from estimated readings can be inaccurate, but what are the causes of inaccurate actual readings? Inaccurate actual readings can result from a faulty smart meter that transmits incorrect readings to the municipality, or when a meter reader applies the incorrect reading to a meter by mixing it up with another meter, or because the meter reader has simply recorded the actual meter reading incorrectly.

 

The case of Wendy Knowler from Durban (East Coast Radio).

Wendy got her November 2019 bill via email, and instead of being around R4,000 as usual, it was almost R36,000.

Her water usage had apparently jumped massively from October to November. And then the council had estimated the next month’s water usage based on their reading of November 27, and the sewerage cost is linked to water usage, so that was sky high over the billing period as well.

She wrote to the council for answers.

A water dept official responded: “Please be advised that your water consumption has increased to 217kl between October and November 2019. We further estimated your account for over 44 days based on high average.

“Please check for an underground leak and get a plumber to repair, then a claim can be lodged.

“In the absence of a leak, you can request a meter to be tested via the contact centre.”

Thankfully, there was no leak.

She took photos of her water meter out on the verge, a day apart, and WhatsApped them to her plumber, along with her bill.

He came back to her with Scenario #3, one not mentioned by that water official. The water meter reader got it wrong on November 27. In fact, the number stated on her bill, as being the reading on November 27, is 200-kilo liters ahead of where the meter was at the time, two months later.

In other words, impossible.

 

What can be done about an inaccurate municipal billing system?

In the case of Wendy Knowler, after submitting an inquiry about her astronomical bill she got the following response from the e Thekwini Municipality spokesman;

 

“An investigation into the matter has revealed that both meters were over-read by the contractor. Adjustments for both accounts were done and authorized on Wednesday, 22/01/2020.”

“In order to ensure that this never happens again, the behaviour of contractors will be monitored closely. New contractors will begin work in February and as a measure to mitigate such instances, the new contractors will be required to take photographs of all readings taken in their respective routes daily while using the HHT’s to capture readings.

“Pictures will be used to cross-reference reading accuracy when the meter reading audits are done, hence, we are hopeful that we will eliminate these issues and give our customers peace of mind.”

Photos of meter readings are effective for cross-referencing suspected inaccurate meter readings. Another great tool to use is to record GPS coordinates with each meter reading to ensure that the right reading is attributed to the right meter in cases where meter readings may have been mixed up.  

 

The best way to circumvent inaccurate meter readings is to use a reliable smart metering solution. Assuming that the installed meters are working correctly, a smart metering solution transmits accurate meter readings automatically to the respective municipality via an online system. This solution cuts out the middleman, the meter reader manually capturing the reading data that is then relayed to the municipality and reduces the chances of incorrect meter readings being reflected on a consumer’s utilities bill.

 

Industry-leading solutions for municipal billing systems

With over twenty years of experience in the field, Consolidated African Technologies (CAT) has perfected solutions for both meter reading field services and smart metering.

 

RouteMaster

RouteMaster TM is the widely adopted meter reading enterprise solution from industry leaders CAT. Years of experience in the meter reading and meter auditing markets have culminated in the first truly scalable solution suitable for both small and big enterprises that allows modular expansion as new technologies become relevant and available.

Remote meter reading

Remote Mobile Service (RMS) to receive and transmit data readings from fieldworker units remotely utilising cellular technologies such as GPRS, 3G, HSDPA, and Edge to wirelessly transmit readings back to the office once a meter reading route has been completed.

 

GPS

Our RMA.Net solution is GPS capable allowing the handheld device to assist the meter reader in locating the correct meter. Results can be viewed within RMA showing each meter reader’s path from meter to meter and the exact location where each reading was obtained. This information can be extremely useful for meter audits.

 

Advanced Management Reporting

RMA.Net hosts a customer Web Interface whereby customers can log into the system to view reading history and print reports as well as submit readings via the web. RMA.Net has a comprehensive set of management reports which supply key performance indicators to help enhance, and thereby streamline the meter reading process.

 

Automatic meter reading

AMR is available using an AMR receiver integrated into the handheld and a transponder connected to the meter. When the meter reader either walks or drives by, the meter reading is automatically sent to the handheld device.