How cities can make it easier for citizens to pay for energy

Wed, 2014-11-05 06:00 -- Jesse Berst

In many parts of the world, customers can prepay their electricity bills just as they can prepay cell phone minutes. In North America, however, prepay is relatively rare. Many regulators and consumer advocates have always feared that utilities would use prepay to unfairly target low-income families. They would force those with poor credit scores to pay in advance.

But if you look at the research, you'll find that several segments of the population prefer prepay. Transient workers and college students, for instance, often find it more convenient that establishing a conventional account. And some low-income families find prepay helps them budget.

I think it's time for utilities to offer prepay for those who want it, albeit with rules that prevent any misuse by utilities. I think even more customers will want it, by the way, when they can use the new flavor just pioneered by Itron. As you will read below, it translates kilowatt-hours (kWh) into dollars and cents, making it much easier to judge how much is left before you need to reload.

Itron has even made the reloading process easier, allowing customers to simply wave a contactless smart card near the meter.

The technology is here. The consumer demand is here. Now we just need utilities and their regulators to catch up.


Council Lead Partner Itron this week announced the availability of its new currency-based smart payment solution, including the ITRON CENTIAN™ prepayment meter and associated prepayment software. The meter offers both consumer convenience and makes it easier for people to understand their energy usage because it displays the meter’s remaining balance in currency instead of kilowatt-hours. The meter can be reloaded with cash using a contactless smart card held close to the meter.

The introduction of currency also enables utilities to implement time-of-use-based tariffs, since credit and consumption is reconciled at the meter.

 “The launch of our currency-based smart payment solution reestablishes Itron’s leadership in delivering smart payment solutions and brings a truly distinctive offering to utilities,” said Jeff Carkhuff, vice president of global solutions marketing for electricity at Itron. “We believe that this solution will make a real difference to consumers in terms of the convenience of purchasing electricity credit and also understanding their energy use to help save money and conserve resources.”

The Itron Centian meter is being launched in several countries, including Thailand, Bangladesh, Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe, where prepayment is becoming an essential way for consumers to access electricity.

More about Itron…
Detroit's largest utility teams with Itron to showcase smart city technologies
Itron survey is a wake-up call for utilities
How Itron is making waves with smart water solutions

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to learn about the benefits you receive when you join the Council for free. Follow @Jesse_Berst and connect on LinkedIn.