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The Problem of Energy Theft

The Problem of Energy Theft
21 October 2021
 

It is high time that housing associations tackled the problem of energy theft, says Craig Mellor from Deer Technology.

Having graduated with a 1st class business studies degree, Craig then qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Price Waterhouse. Moving into the industry, Craig was one of the three executive directors that built a £1.25 billion enterprise value property business from inception. Craig is now working with Deer Technology to commercialise the technologies developed.

Deer Technology will be exhibiting at EMEX, the UK’s must-attend net-zero event for all professionals wanting to deliver a low carbon, energy-efficient and sustainable future in their organisation. You can visit them at booth A16.

 

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Picture: a photograph of Craig Mellor

 

The Serious Problem of Energy Theft

 

Energy theft is a serious problem for housing associations and there are a number of reasons for this. In this article, we will focus on the theft of electricity, though tampering with gas supplies and meters can have devastating consequences if a leak causes an explosion.

Interfering with electricity supplies and meters can be extremely dangerous. Electric shock can cause burns, injury or death, not only for the culprit but also cohabitants, neighbours, future tenants, housing association staff and contractors. As they are landlords, housing associations have a statutory responsibility for electrical safety as well as a duty to prevent personal injury caused by defects in the property. They also have a duty of care towards staff and contractors.

 

"As they are landlords, housing associations have a statutory responsibility for electrical safety as well as a duty to prevent personal injury caused by defects in the property. They also have a duty of care towards staff and contractors."

 

Lifts and Lighting in Communal Areas

 

Aside from the hazards relating to tampering with the electricity supply and meter, there are financial reasons for wanting to prevent or detect energy theft. For example, there will be shared services such as lifts and lighting in communal areas that unscrupulous tenants might view as an easy source of "free" electricity. Although the resultant increase in electricity consumption might be relatively small, particularly for larger blocks of flats, the costs add up over time. Early visibility of an unexplained increase in consumption would enable action to be taken quickly and money saved – as well as hazards eliminated.

Similarly, voids can be targets for energy thieves, so housing associations would ideally monitor consumption from empty homes to ensure the supplies are not being tampered with.

Even when tenants have direct contracts with electricity retailers, there are reasons why housing associations wish to prevent or detect energy theft or "meter cheating". We have already discussed the risk of electric shock but there is also the risk of fire. This is a major concern for all housing associations, and even more so in high-rise tower blocks. In addition, housing associations often find themselves footing the bill when energy theft has been discovered and repairs have to be carried out to the meter, wiring and property. Or, if they claim on their insurance, it could affect future premiums.

 

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Cannabis Cultivation

 

An increasingly common reason for energy theft is to power the cultivation of cannabis, either on a small scale or on an almost industrial scale as cannabis farms. Housing associations want to avoid this because of the risks associated with electric shock and fire, plus they do not want illegal activities taking place. A particular problem with cannabis cultivation is that the culprits cause damage to the property that can cost thousands of pounds to rectify.

Finally, there is another important point relating to energy theft. In 2019 the UK Government legislated to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. One result of this has been to put pressure on housing associations to decarbonise the UK’s social housing stock, though housing associations in some areas need to move even faster because local authorities have committed to decarbonisation by 2030. Reducing energy theft will help to achieve this goal.

In the battle against energy theft, a vital weapon is metering. Traditional analogue electricity meters tend to be read so infrequently that the information is of limited value – and that assumes meter readers are granted access to the meter, which is unlikely if it has been tampered with. Smart devices can provide a level of detail that is simply not possible otherwise, and this provides the visibility necessary to fight energy theft. A spike in consumption might indicate that a tenant’s electricity is being diverted to another property, while a sudden drop to little or no consumption could be a tell-tale sign of a meter being bypassed. Monitoring the pattern of consumption for communal lighting, lifts and other electrical equipment can also identify increases that could be due to theft.

What many housing associations would like today is accurate electricity meter reads at a frequency of their choosing. Ideally, the necessary hardware would be installed quickly without interrupting the supply, and the costs of installation and data provision should be low enough that they can be readily justified.

Depending on the contractual arrangements, housing associations could also provide the meter readings to the electricity retailers, so the latter would no longer need access to the properties to take visual readings.

 

Cost-Effective Solution

 

Fortunately, all of these problems can be solved cost-effectively by Deer Technology’s LimpetReader. This clever, battery-powered opto-electronic device attaches to the meter’s faceplate with optical tape or adhesive. There is no need to dismantle the meter or interrupt the supply. Installation takes around 10 minutes and the meter’s register remains visible should a visual read be necessary. Dual-register meters are fitted with two LimpetReaders to capture readings from both registers.

If a LimpetReader was removed or tampered with, this would be identifiable from the data output.

For regulatory purposes, the patented LimpetReader is unique among automated reading systems in that readings are classified as ‘visual’. This means suppliers never need to send anyone to read the meter manually.

To make the LimpetReader as compact as possible, it incorporates multiple micro-cameras for imaging the register. The images are date- and time-stamped before being transmitted to Deer Technology’s secure server.

 

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Picture: a photograph of the LimpetReader

Images are sent to the server via GSM technology over any of the UK’s four mobile phone networks. Multiple LimpetReader devices can be linked to a single AutoReader transmitter, which is ideal for housing associations with multiple tenants in a single building. Once on the server, the images are stitched together to create a high-quality, distortion-free image of the meter’s register. This is then decoded into a numerical value, which is stored together with the high-quality image of the register. Data and images can be accessed by the customer in a variety of ways, depending on the requirements. For instance, an API (application programming interface) can be provided, data sent as spreadsheet files, or dashboards created for high-quality reporting.

Deer Technology provides a comprehensive service covering everything from meter installation to data management. The service starts with a customer consultation to establish the optimum overall solution to the problem of meter reads and data management. Deer Technology installs the LimpetReaders and AutoReaders, then provides a data service for reporting, visualisation and delivering data to the customer’s databases as required.

As we have already discussed, data visibility helps to identify energy theft and retrofitting conventional meters with smart technologies provides a range of additional benefits for housing associations and tenants. For example, housing associations can help tenants reduce their consumption and expenditure, and cutting overall consumption supports the drive to decarbonise social housing.

Deer Technology estimates that there are millions of analogue electricity meters in social housing that could be converted to smart devices using its LimpetReader solution. Moreover, LimpetReaders can also be used on water meters to deliver similar benefits: accurate billing, better visibility of consumption data to enable savings to be made, and an early warning of theft or leaks. Again, millions of water meters in social housing worldwide could be simply retrofitted with LimpetReaders.

Find out more about Deer Technology’s LimpetReader for converting analogue meters to smart devices at https://deertechnology.com,

Picture: a photograph of lightbulb 

Article written by Craig Mellor | Published 21 October 2021

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