Prepaid electricity disaster looming

Many of the 11.64 million prepaid electricity meters in South Africa could stop functioning from 24 November 2024 if they do not receive a critical update in time.

While over half the meters have been updated, the rate at which this has happened over the past few months is too slow.

The issue could prevent over a million people from loading new electricity tokens on their meters, cutting off their power.

From 24 November, every Standard Transfer Specifications-compliant prepaid electricity meter in the world will stop accepting new voucher tokens unless it receives a Key Revision Number (KRN) code.

This is because one of the anti-fraud measures built into STS-compliant prepaid systems is a timer that started counting from 1 January 1993.

As Eskom explains, each credit token has a unique token identifier (TID) encoded in the 20 digits to prevent reusing tokes multiple times.

“The TID is referenced to a base date of 1993 and will run out of range in 2024, known as the TID rollover event, thus causing the prepayment meter to stop accepting new tokens,” Eskom said.

This type of issue is referred to as a time storage or date rollover bug.

To fix the issue, electricity distributors like Eskom and municipalities rely on their customers to update the meters by entering a 20-digit KRN code like a regular electricity credit token.

These are being provided to customers in phases via the same channels through which they would regularly buy electricity.

Over 50% complete for both Eskom and municipalities

While electricity distributors were warned about the need to update their prepaid meters over a decade ago, many only started with the KRN rollover process in the past few years.

Eskom, which accounts for nearly 6.9 million of the 11.64 million meters in the country, was only running a KRN rollover pilot in Gauteng a year ago. Just 5,800 of its direct customers’ prepaid meters had received their KRN codes at that point.

The power utility has rapidly picked up the pace since that time. By October 2023, the number had increased to 678,000 meters.

According to Eskom’s online dashboard for the KRN rollover, 3.58 million of its 6.9 million prepaid meters were running with the update by 13 May 2024, or 51.96% of the total.

According to the South African Local Government Association’s (Salga’s) KRN rollover dashboard, over 2.63 million of the 4.74 million prepaid meters supplied with electricity from municipalities have received the update, or 55.54% of the total.

The screenshots below show Eskom and Salga’s latest dashboards for KRN rollovers of Eskom Direct and municipal prepaid meters.

Eskom KRN rollover dashboard

Salga KRN rollover dashboard

Many prepaid electricity meters at risk

Overall, another 5.44 million prepaid meters need to be updated over the next six months, at a rate of nearly 28,000 meters per day.

From October 2023 to May 2024, an average of about 14,044 Eskom prepaid meters were updated daily.

At that pace, only roughly 2.74 million more will receive the update by 24 November 2024, potentially leaving hundreds of thousands of Eskom prepaid customers in the dark come 24 November.

The KRN rollover rate in municipalities should be an even greater cause for concern.

In the past two months, the number of updated meters has only increased by around 230,000.

If that pace continues over the next six months, only another 760,500 of the remaining 2.11 million meters will be updated by 24 November.

Several municipalities in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape had already begun the KRN rollover by mid-2021.

Even the City of Cape Town, with the highest completion rate of 92% among major metros, still needs to update over 49,000 prepaid meters.

It should be noted that some municipalities’ data might not be reflected on Salga’s dashboard.

Although the City of Tshwane has already started the KRN rollover, Salga’s dashboard shows it has 0 updated meters.

The table below provides an estimate of how many prepaid meters might not be updated in time.

Estimated prepaid meters
Eskom Municipalities
Completed 3,585,295 2,634,169
Daily rollover rate 14,044 3,900
Estimated additional KRN rollovers by 24 November 2024 based on current rates 2,738,580 760,500
Estimated total KRN rollover 6,323,875 3,394,669
Estimated prepaid meters outstanding 595,084 1,348,004

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Prepaid electricity disaster looming