A smart idea?

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All of us have cell phones. It is the rare Pinoy who doesn’t have one, be it Globe, Smart or Sun.

More of us have pre-paid cell phones than post-paid ones because pre-paid lines are more practical. With a pre-paid line, we learn to control our use of our phones—whether texting or calling— and woe to those who end up with no load when getting in touch with our loved ones is an absolute must.

Then again, there is such a thing as a ‘pasa’ load, or one can also feed the hungry cell phone online through a bank account.

The pre-paid concept is quite simple. You pay in advance for a product or service that you intend to use.

Pre-paid is such a great idea that the concept has also been adopted by South Expressway’s skyway.

So if pre-paid is all it’s cut out to be, why not adopt it to utilities like water or electricity?

This is precisely what the Manila Electric Co. or Me­ralco wants consumers like us to consider. By pre-paying for one’s electricity, an individual or a family will be forced to curb misuse, theoretically resulting in lots of savings.

A fellow Manila Times columnist earlier wrote about Meralco’s pre-paid electricity plans, and I must admit that my curiosity was piqued by the idea.

I am probably just one of hundreds of thousands of consumers who sometimes wonders where the electricity that I am billed every month went. Sometimes, I suspect that my househelp must be endlessly watching TV with the air-con on when no one is at home.
Someone who knows of what he speaks recently told me that pre-paid electricity is just the tip of the iceberg. It seems that Meralco will be adopting “Smart grid technologies.”

Yup, not Globe grid technologies, but Smart grid technologies. Pardon the pun, but the smart grid means that there is a two-way communications built into devices—like electric meters—strategically located in a network to optimize grid performance and reliability.

As consumers, we can therefore expect Meralco to offer online access to what we actually use. We therefore have the choice of conserving and showing family members the rate of consumption, or be like Asiong Aksaya—remember him?—and use up as much power as we want.

(Note: For those too young to remember, Asiong Aksaya was a cartoon comic strip character created to show Pinoys the folly of waste, particularly of fuel and/or electricity. He was as well known in the ‘70s as Yosi Kadiri was in the ‘90s.)

With sensors and “smart meters” in substations and homes, Meralco can detect outages, so that the duration and frequency may be expected to decrease. The power firm will thus be better equipped to provide the estimated restoration time.

This removes the frustration of not knowing whether a brownout will be for a few minutes or many hours. We know this to be a totally maddening experience.

Meralco’s network will also be ready to accommodate solar panels and electric vehicles—I dream of one day owning and driving a Tesla Roadster—and allow the energy they generate to be uploaded to Meralco, and Meralco can credit us for it. In effect, we will be supplying, rather than buying, power from the company.
Neat, huh?

The benefits to the country are also enormous as power is a key indicator that will drive direct foreign investments, where we lag behind the likes of Vietnam and Indonesia.

My fellow MT columnist was espousing the point of view of Xen Energy Systems, which is pitching a particular type of technology. According to my sources in the sector, Xen Energy is pitching a technology that has yet to be proven to work in large deployments over time, and supported by reputable software and hardware vendors. The Energy Regulatory Commission conducted hearings on the matter and put in place rules that allowed each utility to use a technology that best suits its needs.

Whatever smart technology we consumers end up using, one thing is sure. There will be one happy brown taipan—not you, Mr. Manny Villar, but the other Manny—who will look at Metro Manila and know that he has changed the way we pay for our utilities.

Yup, Mr. MVP or Manny V. Pangilinan is the guy behind Smart Telecoms, Meralco, the Skyway (with its pre-paid ePass) and even Maynilad, among many others.

Pre-paid electricity is coming, and I suspect pre-paid water will be next. After that? Only MVP knows for sure.

mobygrape53@yahoo.com

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