Are TNBs new electric meters rigged to charge higher

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TNB Electric MeterThere’s been a huge controversy over the newly installed digital Electric meters by TNB, with consumers from all walks of life raising hell over their the perceived rise of their utility bills ever since they’ve installed thenew meters. USJ State assemblywomen Hannah Yeoh blogged about her response to this, urging TNB to explain the price hike.

However the state assemblywomens action pale in comparison to Dian Abdullah who urged her YB to investigate TNB, and started a petition asking for independent calibration of meters–which she eventually hopes to present to Agong once the petition reaches 10,000 signatures. Ms. Dian Abdullah reports that she ” personally feel(s) that the time has come where TNB should stop scamming the Rakyat especially those living and working in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.”

Of course, in typical Malaysian fashion–this is all mired in politics. A popular blog reported that the suppliers of the meters to TNB are linked to former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Obviously if we intend to get into that we might not have enough time or space in this one post.

My point though is that there is quite a simple engineering (or dare I say scientific) solution to the issue–something that doesn’t involve politicians or lawyers. It’s unfortunate that Malaysians immediately revert to political and legal solutions, when engineering and science can solve most of your problems for far less hassle, far more effectively.

How to determine if the new TNB meters are accurate?

Well first you’d have to realize you can’t take sides. You know that the electric bills of certain residents have increased substantially once the meters were replaced. However, you don’t know if the new meters are improperly calibrated, or if the old replaced meters were the ones with the issues. So you’re left with a hypotheses that can go either which way, but for simplicity sake you assume the new meters are wrongly calibrated–AND–the new meters are inaccurate.

Now that you have your hypotheses, it’s important to come up with a very simple science experiment to test your hypotheses.

So you ask yourself–what does the electric meter actually measure. What physical quantity is it measuring and what is Tenaga actually billing you for? The answer is quite simple, Tenaga is billing you for Energy (not power or electricity).

At the very basic level, power is the amount of energy used per unit time. So in order to calculate the energy utilized you’d have to multiply power by time, which is why the unit of measurement for Energy is kilowatt-hour (kWh).

Kilo is 1000. Watt is the unit for power. Hour is the unit for time. This is what TNB is charging you for–Energy.

So for example a fridge rated at 1000watts (or 1 Kilo Watt) running for 1 hour would consume 1 kilowatt-hour and Tenaga would bill you 1 kWh for running that fridge for an hour. A more efficient fridge operating at 100watts (or 0.1 Kilo Watts) running for 1 hour would consume just 0.1 kilowatt-hours. Tenaga would similarly bill you just 0.1 kWh for running this fridge for 1 hour.

So how do you then verify if your newly installed TNB meter is accurately measuring your energy consumption. Well you simply compare the TNB meter with another meter that you know is accurate–while they’re both measuring the same device.

How to determine if you Electric Meter at home is accurate.

1. Monitor your meter, and check that it’s running fine.

2. Turn off every single electric device in your home. The best way to do this, is to switch of all your fuses on your fuse box. (actually you can just switch off the main, but that would defeat the purpose of the next steps).

3. Now check that your meter isn’t running anymore. The reading on the meter shouldn’t be increasing and the meter shouldn’t be ‘running’. If it is, double check steps 1 and 2.

4. Next turn on just one electric device in your home (and it’s corresponding fuse on the fuse box). Make sure this device consumes energy at a constant rate (washing machines consume different levels for the spin cycle, rinse cycle etc…), also you need to have something that consumes a fair bit of energy so that your readings are accurate. I suggest your fridge.

4. Monitor your meter again and see that it’s running. Now take the meters current reading.

5. Connect a watt-meter to your fridges power supply (this should be the only thing currently ‘on’ in your house).

6. Run the experiment for exactly 1 hour.

7. Look at your results, if the watt-meter shows your fridge is consuming about 500w, then the reading on your meter should increase by 0.5kilowatt-hours. from step (4).

The great thing is that the modern day watt-meters actually have built in capabilities to read energy, so they can actually produce a kilowatt hour reading for you to compare directly with your Tenaga meter. The meters themselves cost just Rm80Rm100.

The experiment will either show that the TNB meters reading to be 0.5 kilowatt-hour (slight variation is expected), or something completely different. Based on the fact, that some residents have complained that their electric bills doubled, then you’d expect the meter reading to be around 1Kilowatt hour, and now you have proof that TNB is cheating you!!

Conclusion

With just Rm80 and some elbow grease, you can bypass the need to go to your local state assembly person  or create a petition to the Agong. Instead you could go directly to a lawyer or the police, because I’m quite sure there’s something in the weights and measures act that would help you claim damages from Tenaga due to their faulty meter.

If instead you discover that the current meter is actually accurate, then you have to conclude that maybe you’ve been enjoying 10 years of cheaper electricity due to a faulty meter that was actually rigged in your favor. In this case, the best approach would be to shut-up and count your blessings–hoping Tenaga doesn’t try to claim back-payments for the years you’ve enjoyed cheaper electricity.

At the end of the day–do you really want to trouble the Agong for something you can investigate yourself for RM80? This all points to the tremendous amounts of scientific illiteracy in Malaysia–something I’m hoping to fix.

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