Unless updated and reset, prepaid meters (electricity, water and gas) will not accept new prepaid credit tokens after the 24th November 2024.
By Kirsten Kelly
“In laymen’s terms; current pre-paid metering software that is used by utilities around the world will expire after 24th November 2024. Pre-paid meters must be reset and software updated, or consumers will not be able to recharge meters with new tokens and will not have a gas, power or water supply,” says Dr Silas Mulaudzi, specialist: Sustainable Energy, Salga.
Terminology – STS and TID explained
There are approximately 70 million standard transfer specification (STS) prepaid meters in over 40 countries, used by more than 500 utilities. Encrypted tokens are used to transfer units purchased onto STS meters. These tokens are encoded with a unique Token Identifier (TID) that represents the minutes elapsed since the base date of 1st January 1993 and identifies the date and time of the token generation. TIDs comprise 20 digits to prevent tokens from being reused at meters. They utilise STS for carrying information between a point-of-sale and a meter.
The use of STS technology prevents:
Fraudulent transfer of credit resulting from hit and miss attempts at entering the correct number
Fraudulent generation of tokens from a stolen vending station
Fraudulent generation of tokens from legitimate vending stations outside of the utility’s area
Fraudulent re-use of tokens which have already been used
Tampering of legitimate tokens to change the value
After the 24th November 2024, all STS compliant meters will stop accepting credit tokens that are calculated on the base date of 1993 and the TID value encoded in the token will be reset back to 0 – unless an intervention takes place.
Extending the current vending and current token’s lifetime beyond 2024 would be increasing a security risk to unacceptably high levels and expose the entire water, electricity and gas industries to huge security threats.
Implications for South Africa
According to Salga, well over 3 million STS meters are managed by municipalities and over 7 million STS meters are managed by ESKOM. If this deadline is not met, the consequences will be dire. Consumers will be left without services, municipalities will lose a lot of revenue and there is a high chance that there will be violent community protest, some consumers may even illegally bypass the meters.
To prevent this from happening, all utilities and municipalities are obliged to upgrade their vending systems from STS Edition 1 to the STS Edition 2 specification. “This should be done immediately as once municipalities/utilities have STS Edition 2, they will not have to reset any new meters that they buy from that point onwards,” states Mulaudzi.
However, every prepaid meter that was bought before the vending software was upgraded to STS Edition 2 must be reset with two key change reset tokens and the base date of 01/01/1993 must be changed to a base date of 01/01/2014, forcing the meters to reset the TID stack memory to 0. These two key change tokens (comprising of 20 digits each) must be entered into every single individual meter.
These meters can be reset by:
The consumers when they purchase credit. They must be instructed in clear and simple terms to enter the two key change tokens before entering the newly purchased credit token. They must be informed that the newly purchased credit token will only be accepted by the meter if the two key change tokens are entered first. The tokens will have to be numbered in the sequence they have to be entered. Consumers would need to have access to a help desk to provide a second line of technical support to resolve difficult issues.
Key change tokens are issued to a dedicated team of technical staff who then visit the meter to enter the tokens themselves. This option provides a good opportunity to do a meter audit and to restore tampered meters at the same time.
“Whatever the method, municipalities and utilities have to dedicate substantial time, effort and resources. Only a few municipalities have started the process of TID rollover thus far. I have received confirmation from Cape Agulhus Municipality that they have finished resetting all of their prepaid meters. Dr Beyers Naude Municipality have completed over 90% of their meters and Ba-Phalaborwa Municipality have completed 50% of their meters. This is a great achievement; however, we must remember that the number of prepaid meters per municipality differs substantially, from a few thousand to over 300 000,” explains Mulaudzi.
Salga has established a dashboard where the status of TID rollover meter reset is displayed. The dashboard consists of various parameters on the TID rollover data, such as total number of prepayment meters to be reset, number of prepayment meters that have been reset per municipality, outstanding number of prepayment meters.
“Our dashboard indicated that over 600 000 out of 2.4 million meters have been reset thus far. However, not all municipalities have returned their questionnaires and we estimate that there is in excess of 3 million prepaid meters are owned by municipalities,” says Mulaudzi.
Salga have identified a number of challenges with regard to resetting prepaid meters:
A few municipalities have not taken part in any of the Salga STS surveys and have not attended any of the information sessions and may not even be aware that these meters must be reset.
Many municipalities do not have the funding or capacity to reset meters. Salga have asked municipalities to quantify the money needed to reset the meters.
The actual users (consumers) are not aware that the prepaid meters need to be reset.
In some instances, municipalities that are outsourcing this function are coming across service providers that cannot reset the meters and are unqualified to do so.
It is often difficult to access the prepaid meters, as residents are either not at home or do not want to allow anyone onto the property to update the meter.
Salga are conducting information management sessions with municipalities and Eskom to raise awareness over the fact that prepaid meters must be reset. A TID committee has been established comprising Salga, Eskom, national treasury, Sanedi, AMEU and the STS Association to support and assist municipalities through advisory services on the TID rollover meters reset.
“We will also continue to facilitate peer-to-peer learning on various aspects of the TID rollover, including the financial implications for the project and time frames for rolling out the project,” adds Mulaudzi.
Furthermore, Salga has engaged with the South African Council for Graduates (Sagra) where municipalities can use graduates to reset the meters. These graduates can also be used to collect data on other municipal infrastructure like transformers and substations.
Mulaudzi asks all municipalities that have not started this process to please engage with Salga. “Do not underestimate the magnitude of this operation, so start as soon as possible. There is only a relatively short time left to the 2024 deadline. The average metro has over 330 000 prepaid meters to reset; with the two-year deadline, that equates to 431 meters that have to be reset every day (including weekends and public holidays).”
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