Electricity, a unicorn in Pakistan, has been the highlight of this week showing us how the technology in the wrong hands can do wonders for corruption. A few days ago, Uzair Shahid and Advocate Dur Muhammad Shah sought the help of Sindh High Court (SHC) to reveal the injustice of K-Electric.
Reportedly, K-Electric has replaced the old meters with Smart Meters that allegedly the K-Electric management manipulated to change the meter’s readings.
The petitioners also claimed that the new smart meters which were imported by a Chinese company run very fast and thus raise the electricity bills.
These allegations raise a serious question whether these smart devices can be tweaked to overcharge the consumers? Let’s find out
Can Someone Alter the Smart Meter Readings?
For several years, many data companies have been asking the government to consider smart meter to eliminate the middleman (the lineman) and create a better system where the company and the user both know how much electricity is being consumed in real time.
What Is a Smart Meter?
Smart meters, unlike traditional meters, transmit information via RFID technology, an embedded chip or Wi-Fi and enable two-way communication between a meter and a central system.
The smart meters can report the acquired data through fixed wired connection i.e. power line or wifi/cellular communications. It has a dedicated interface that will be available with the electricity supplier and the consumer who can monitor the billing.
Can Anyone Tamper with the Readings of Smart Meter?
The answer is yes. As we have stated above, the smart meter enables two-way communication which means that the through the central system, anyone can feed bogus information into the smart meter and alter or tamper with the readings of the electricity units.
At the same time, we cannot forget that they also pose a major cybersecurity risk as they can be hacked to slow down or fast-track the readings of the electricity units.
Do Smart Meters Give Inflated Readings?
Is the reading of a smart meter accurate? It has been a topic of debate for several years. Earlier this year, DailyMail reported that smart meters can give readings that are SEVEN times too high as it tends to get confused because of dimmer switches and LED bulbs.
In another study, Dutch scientists discovered that smart meters can in fact over-inflate the electricity readings by up to 600%. The cause of the discrepancy was electromagnetic interference which leads us to an obvious answer; yes smart meters can give inflated readings.
K-Electric & Smart Meter
The petitioners that K-ELectric by manipulating the smart meters collected Rs. 77 billion in the shape of excessive billing in September 2017.
Sindh High Court after hearing the preliminary arguments regarding the use of smart meters by K-Electric and the allegations of wrongdoing on the supplier’s part directed National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) to file a reply until 15th November.
K-Electric upon these allegations revealed that it strongly condemns misinformation and unfounded allegations being spread by some quarters regarding digital meters that are not just false but pure fiction. The power utility highlighted that digital meters are purchased from ISO certified manufacturers and installed as per respective guidelines.
KE Spokesperson also highlighted that no mechanism exists to remotely influence meter readings of digital meters in any way. Any claims otherwise are factually incorrect.
KE Spokesperson also highlighted that Smart Meters, on the other hand, are state of the art metering systems that are used in developed countries to “read” the meters remotely to enable fully automated billing without any human intervention. Contrary to certain beliefs, even readings of Smart meters cannot be influenced remotely.
With regards to the cost of electricity, the Government has implemented a “Uniform Tariff Policy” across Pakistan, including Karachi. The slabs of electricity are also implemented across Pakistan. No change has been made by K-Electric in the tariff, slabs or taxes charged to the consumers of Karachi.
The applicable tariff charged is in line with the tariff notified by the Government. Moreover, billing is done as per regulatory processes and guidelines.