When most people hear about the possibility of being hooked onto a prepaid electricity system for the very first time, they tend to be very skeptical about the idea. Indeed, if they are hearing about that possibility from a non-authoritative source (say from a friend), most people tend to dispute it outright. You can’t blame them: coming from a situation where electricity has always been paid for after usage, it takes a certain degree of creative thinking to visualize a situation where electricity would be paid for before use. It is hard to think of how the system would work.

But upon hearing about the possibility of being put on a prepaid electricity billing regime from a more authoritative source, one is bound to believe it (on account of the strength of the authority), but be left with questions on how exactly the system works. It is from such a background that one could find himself or herself getting online and conducting the type of research that leads them to a discussion like this.

So, how exactly does prepaid electricity work?

Well, there are two points from which we can study the workings of prepaid electricity. The first is what would be referred to as the ‘superficial level’ or the ‘user side.’ What happens on the user side is quite easy to understand; especially if you have had the occasion to use a prepaid mobile phone – where you purchase scratch cards bearing specially generated digits, which you then proceed to feed on the phone, to procure you certain amounts of talk-time on the phone network. In prepaid electricity, you purchase similar cards, which reveal a number that you then proceed to feed to the electricity meter using a special dial, thereby procuring yourself a given number of electricity units. These are the electricity units you make use of, and renew (by purchasing another card) when you feel that you are likely to be running low. In the simplest terms, the prepaid electricity billing regime comes with provisions for paying for electricity usage before actually making use of the electricity.

At a deeper level (that is, from the electricity supplier side), the working of the prepaid electricity system is usually hinged on special computer programs, based on the servers of the electricity supply companies. Mostly, these are software programs created using object oriented programming and machine language. They are able to take cognizance of electricity purchases made whenever the scratch card numbers are fed, and to precisely monitor the eventual usage of the electricity so purchased, and eventually disconnect the users when they run out of units before recharging. So, in a nutshell, we can say that the workings of prepaid electricity are hinged upon the software backbone behind the system.

Of course, there are some jurisdictions where there are no provisions for making electricity purchases through scratch cards, but where users pay for electricity, in advance, directly to the offices of electricity supply companies. In situations like these, the users may be told that a payment of so many dollars would purchase them so many days on the grid, upon whose expiry they are to be disconnected if they don’t make further payments. These arrangements are common among small electricity distributors, working with customers in the localities where they are based. And even here, there tends to be need for software to monitor the dates when electricity is ‘purchased’ and the progress towards the dates when the connections are to expire. Most of these software programs are configured to tell the users when that the expiry date is close at hand; so that they can make payment renewals to avoid rude disconnections from the system.