Tuesday, December 21, 2010

When your Power goes out (continued)

If your electricity goes out, and your entire street goes out at the same time the reason is that it is an electricity fault.  Like everything else with electricity this is complicated.
If you live in Taranaki, or the central Waikato, call your electricity retailer.
If you live anywhere else call your lines company.
If you don't know your lines company number call your electricity retailer.

9 times out of 10 they will already know of the fault, but even then they will be able to give you an accurate eta.  If they are not able to give an eta ask what the problem is.  Problems generally come in two varieties -

1) Lines down.  This is where electricity lines are down.  Usually this only happens in storms when the poles collapse.  This is will take 4-6 hours (maybe longer depending on where the lines are) to repair.
2) Broken feeder.  A feeder is generally a box on a power pole, electricity enters and exits the feeder.  A broken feeder is generally a blown fuse.  This take half an hour to fix as soon as the workman arrives.  Generally he will arrive in 1-2 hours.

If there is no eta and the problem is located this gives you a good timeframe.  The reason the network company has not given a timeframe is that generally they give very good and tight timeframes - 90 minutes really is 90 minutes.

If the cause is not known, most of the time is a broken feeder.

And as unhelpful as this seems there is almost no way to get someone there quicker.  Workmen finish their current jobs (if any) and move directly to the faulty area.  Unfortunately you do have to wait.

Friday, December 17, 2010

When your Power goes out (explanation)

Perhaps we should have explained ourselves a bit better on Wednesday, hopefully this will make it clearer.

Electricity comes through the lines in your street.  If these lines go down or are faulty nobody gets electricity.
The electricity leaves the pole and comes along a 'service line' to your meter.  If this service line is faulty only you do not get electricity.
At the meter there is a 'ripple relay'.
Your electric hot water cylinder is wired to this ripple relay.
The ripple relay is controlled by the lines company.
The number one problem with a ripple relay is that it get's stuck in the off position not letting electricity through it.  Usually it is sealed to prevent you from turning it on when it is controlled.

When the ripple relay is set to 'off' no power goes through it.

The reason you open it yourself is that it takes 4-6 hours to get someone out there to check it for you and to do precisely what you can do right there and then.  Don't take no for an answer, when the person comes out they can reseal the box.

Monday we'll look a bit more at some of the other common faults that can occur.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When your Power goes out

We at the Power Panda thought we would do a series of blog posts about what to do when your Power goes out.

The first thing you should do is to ensure that nothing in your house is working.  The reason for this is that if half the appliances in your house are working and half are not, it means that your fault has occurred somewhere inside your house and is your own problem.
To repeat - internal faults (or faults inside your house) are your responsibility, and you will either need to call your landlord, or call an electrician.

The exception to this is hot water.  If you have no hot water but the rest of your house is working - you should start by calling your power company.
WARNING - in some areas for no hot water you are expected to call your lines company.  This varies from area to area.  We recommend calling your electricity company first, they can transfer directly if need be.
So you can see it already starts to be confusing.  If you having no hot water is caused by a faulty hot water cylinder this is your responsibility . However if your hot water is on a ripple relay (controlled power) and the ripple has failed [a very common error] this is the Power Companies/lines companies fault.

What you want the operator to do when you actually speak with somebody is to talk you through telling for yourself if the ripple relay is broken.
We'll mention it briefly here - The ripple relay is the box on your meterboard that does not have a meter display, but the box is completely enclosed in plastic and is screwed shut with metal cords around it.  When you go out tot he ripple box take wire cutters and a screwdriver.
If the switch inside the box is set to 'off' whilst talking with the operator cut the metal cords, open the box and flip the fuse.  Tell them this is what you have done.  Your hot water should start heating.
They will tell you off.  Take no heed of their fuss.  Refuse to pay fees, and just do it.

Tomorrow we'll talk further about this.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Introducing the Power Panda Total Saver

The Power Panda Total Saver device is now ready to ship.  It's our next Power Panda device and across the next few weeks you may see or hear it advertised.
Whilst our Power Panda Unit is designed to work with hot water cylinders the Total Saver is designed to work with electric motors (and a few other items) to produce savings.
The Total Saver will come in a range of sizes to fit all items, households, and businesses.

We'll of course show more details as our advertising begins to start, but if you want to save 20-45% on the cost of your motors and electrical equipment, give us a call on 0800 72 83 44.

Here is a follow up post on the Power Panda Total Saver.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Saving money on paying your power bill

One of those things that you may not be aware - some electricity retailers charge you fees depending on how you pay your electricity bill.
Mercury Energy is the worst offender charging fees to take credit card payment over the phone, fees for processing cheques, and fees for paying at NZ post.
TrustPower charges customers to pay at the Postshop also.
Genesis Energy and Contact Energy at this stage do not appear to charge fees for any payment method.

But it's something to pay attention to.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How to find out if you are paying for someone else's electricity

We at the Power Panda thought we would tell you how to tell to see if someone else is using your electricity.
Before we share this simple and no cost way of determining this we want to briefly say that it is very rare for you to be paying for someone else's electricity.  Usually it is limited to situations where a block of units has been renovated.  What happens is that the electricians occasionally do the new wiring incorrectly and wire all of the wiring into one meter.
Another situation is with granny flats.  Even if the flat is on a separate meter sometimes the original power points inside the flat are wired to the main houses meter.

What this means is that there are some situations where you are paying for someone else's electricity.
What is the best way to determine this?

What you do is wait until dusk (8.30 in summer, or 6-7pm in winter) and go out to your meter box.  You should see a main switch (or two).  Turn all of the switches to the 'off' position.  This will stop all power to your house.
Quickly look around to see if any of your neighbor's lights have just gone off.

Also now is a good time to visit your neighbors and see if any of their electrical devices are not working.

If this action results in some (or all) of your neighbor's power going out then you are paying for their electricity.  If your neighbor's power is still working they are paying for their own power.

Hopefully you'll never need to use this trick, but it is 99.9% accurate and of course doesn't' cost you a thing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why you should always take a meter reading yourself

Whenever you move into a new property always always take a meter reading yourself and call it through to your power company.  This should be one of the first things you.  

The reason for this is that if you do not take a reading the electricity company will bill you from the last reading of the previous occupier.  
Even when there is an advanced meter at the property your electricity company will not take a reading and bill from that, they will still bill you from the last reading of the previous occupier.  
Whilst this would be fine if you moved in the afternoon that the other person moved out, in practice this doesn't happen.  

Also most people don't turn their electric hot water cylinders off after moving out, so unless you take a reading you will pay for the electric hot water cylinder heating that occurred between the last occupier moving out and you moving in.  

This assumes that the reading the last person gave was accurate (unlikely as you give misleading readings and they won't be caught).  It also assumes that nobody did renovations or cleaning in between occupancies.  It is just too risky not to take the reading when you move in.  

Unless you give this start reading the day you move in you can easily wind up paying for usage that isn't yours, and the electricity company will not do much about it.

To bring home the point further we'll tell a brief story about our sales manager when he was working for an electricity company.  A lady rung up to give her start reading, which was just over 1000 Kw different to the final reading of the previous occupiers.  Our sales manager queried this and confirmed she was reading the meter correctly.  He explained that this was a lot of usage different and asked if anything had been done on the house in the meantime.  The lady said that the previous tennant had flooded the house and done a runner (but closed their electricity account) and the landlord had had 5 industrial dehumidifiers and 10 industrial fans running for the past 10 days to remove the moisture.
That phone call saved the lady hundreds of dollars.  

Next time it could be you, call your power company when moving into a new place, and give them that reading.      

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Powerco borrows to repay bonds

The headline of this story should read "Powerco borrows to repay bonds"

Basically Powerco has had to borrow money to repay the maturing bonds for next year.  Deeper in the article we learn that there is $320 million more of bonds due to mature across the next 7 years which Powerco does not seem to have the financing for.  

The article also points out that Powerco has a rating of BBB, which is the most minimal of all of the acceptable ratings.  

We at the Power Panda feel that BBB is too a high a rating for Powerco's service.  Their network is old, and has daily outages.  They also are a for profit lines company which means in their area you get no electricity rebates.  

But it is interesting that Standard and Poors do not think that our second largest lines company is a secure investment.  They are a lines company, there is constant demand for the services, a captive market, an ability to charge to cover costs, and no real liabilities.  That really should be considered a good investment if properly managed and maintained.  

<disclosure, we own no Powerco Bonds>

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Phil Goff and Electricity Prices

For those of you who watched TV 3 last night Phil Goff blamed the government for high electricity prices, and called it 'price gorging'

We've written about the high prices of electricity on more than one occasion. To blame it on the government is perhaps a little simplistic.  Certainly government action has increased the price of electricity, but the restrictions imposed by the last Labor government with medical customers in our mind is more of a reason for high prices than Goff's alleged 'price gorging'.

It wasn't that long ago when people were complaining that the Power Companies were not producing an adequate return for the government.

The problem is more complex than certain politicians seem to want to believe.

Also we think that any regulation to lower power prices is likely to be futile.  Electricity companies are very good at raising prices, so in order to lower your power bill we recommend purchasing a Power Panda.

Mercury Energy already has a fee for paying the power bill at New Zealand Post.  If the government legislates to reduce electricity prices I'm sure we'll see fees for paying power bills with credit cards, processing fees, and more 'one-off' fees that more than compensate for the reduction in revenue.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Just to follow up on that last post

As it could have been confusing - We are not sure what the effects of the arrangement have been.  Most of the details have been kept secret.  

However we think the entire arrangement smells and we're not certain it won't come back to bite New Zealanders.

Who owns our national grid?

We at the Power Panda uncovered a rather shocking article in the NZ herald yesterday.  The article is from 2005, and the agreement discussed was done in 2003, but it was still something we had no idea about.

The crux of the article is that Transpower leased the South Island's national grid to an American investment company, who then leased it back to Transpower?  It is confusing.  It's called a cross border lease and "cross-border leasing has been criticised by Canterbury University accounting academics Alan Robb and Sue Newberry, who said it was shonky and, in the case of the Transpower deal, had put ownership of the grid at risk."

Really?  Shonky?  We would have used some much stronger words.  It sounds a lot like a buy-back scheme.  

In fact "Dr Newberry said the concept - called "lease-in, lease-out" in the US - had been subject to a big tax inquiry in that country and the authorities were now shutting such schemes down."

In fact such complicated arrangements have been deemed illegal in New Zealand, with the most high profile being the Trinity arrangement.

But getting back to the point, Transpower obtained $34 million under this arrangement.  Nobody seems to know how long the arrangement is for.  Michael Cullen claimed it could not open the door for foreign ownership of the national grid, but to be honest we're not sure we can believe him.  
What the other party gained is some loophole tax advantage worth to them almost certainly more than $34 million.  

The rest of us got higher power prices and a confused head.  

Friday, December 3, 2010

Yes it still happens with advanced meters

We at the Power Panda have blogged earlier about the madness of medically dependent customers.  
To recap - The Power Companies in response to political pressure decided to implement systems to ensure that no person could ever have their power cut off if they could possibly be dependent upon electricity for their health.  In other words they decided to assume customers needed electricity to live and act according.  

With advanced meters as we mentioned yesterday the power companies can turn the power on and off at the property remotely with an advanced meter.  With standard meters it requires a contractor to go out to the property to disconnect.  Now when the disconnection is for non payment this can be quite an advantage.  Contractors are often abused and/or threatened.  Additionally since the unfortunate incident of  Folole Muliaga contractors are often reticent to turn the power off (more on this point another day).

So you can see why a Power Company might want to turn the power off remotely.  What large sections of a prominent Power Company were unaware of (until July) is as follows:

The credit team decided that it could pose a hazard to some customers if this were done.  They decided that in order to prevent the Folole Muliaga incident from happening again if a customer was due to be disconnected for non payment and the customer had not contacted the power company within the past 21 days they would send a contractor to the site to knock on the door of the customer and inquire if the customer was aware of this, and to ensure that the customer was not medically dependent.  

Seeing as in most cases customers do not contact the power company with their overdue bills the advanced meter disconnections actually cost this power company more than standard disconnections.  

However what happened is that customers who told the contractor "I'll pay the bill" automatically 'looped' within the system.  In short what it meant was that the disconnection would be rescheduled.  This meant that the account would have no further action for a week.  After this an automated letter would be posted out to the customer reminding them of the overdue bill.  The next week a text would be sent to the customer.  So by the time the customer came up for disconnection again there was often 21 days or more, and if there was no contact....
the situation happened again.  

Would you believe it?  
We didn't at first.  But it's just another example of the madness that is our electricity industry.  
We'll touch on other aspects later, but hopefully this is a good enough explanation for now.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

An advanced meter

A reader asked us at the Power Panda this week about why our previous post didn't mention smart meters at all.

The simple reason is as follows:
A 'smart meter' is not a different type of meter, it is a different way of reading a meter.

To explain further, a smart meter allows the electricity company to read your meter remotely, and to turn your meter on and off remotely.  That is all the difference.

You still have an anytime configuration, night only configurations, controlled configurations, etc.  You will still have a meter type.  However with an advanced meter your meter is read remotely.

(The meter has access to the vodaphone network.  What happens is that the power company sends a text to the meter telling it to read itself, and the meter sends a response back by text).

That is all that is advanced about an advanced meter (actually that's not quite true, the power company can turn it on and off remotely via text also, but those two are the only differences).  Your advanced meter does not save you money, and it is really only for the benefit of the Power Company.

It's not a different meter type, just a different way of reading the meters.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Power Panda and electricity companies

From time to time we at the Power Panda are asked how the power companies are treating our device.

The short answer is that they are hoping we will just go away.

Not only is our Power Panda reducing their total income in the residential market we have just finished the testing on a device to reduce the electricity industries need.  Should we achieve our goal in putting one in in every business in this country the power companies will loose 20% of their revenue.

At the moment we seem to be flying under their radar.  Our attempts to sell our Power Panda devices to electricity companies (for them to give to customers) were ultimately unsuccessful.

What will happen in the future, we're not sure, but we've seen the ugly insides of Power companies and we're confident that we can continue selling our Power Panda without difficulty.