The smart meter rollout: Ensuring installation without a hiccup

David Stroud, general manager, EDMI Europe, explains the key things that energy suppliers must bear in mind to ensure the smart meter rollout runs smoothly.

In August, Energy Helpline warned that the average household quarterly bill could rise by up to £140. More recently, with the onset of winter imminent, utility companies are arguing prices will rise further due to a rise in wholesale costs With energy prices continuing to creep up and up for the winter months ahead, it is enough to persuade the most energy guzzling household to consider changing their habits.

On a brighter note, the government estimates that the roll-out of smart meters, due to kick off in 2015, will deliver over £7 billion net benefits to consumers with an Oxford Economic report published last year claiming that it will save households an average £65 a year. The report estimates that households and businesses will use less energy thanks to the greater control and transparency around energy use offered by smart meters.

Yet these benefits will only become reality if consumers embrace the roll-out and use smart meter data to change their behaviour. However, recent research from DECC into attitudes towards smart meters among the British public revealed that half of all respondents are undecided about the installation of smart meters in every home in the country, with around three in ten bill-payers expressing support for the roll-out, and one in five bill-payers remaining opposed. This split can be explained by the conflicting information consumers receive on the roll-out from the media on one side and the government and energy companies on the other.

Energy companies have invested heavily in advertising and educational collateral for consumers to highlight the benefits. However, at the same time the roll-out has attracted criticism in the British press around privacy concerns and the cost of the programme. The impact of this two-way pull on the public is highlighted by the DECC survey, which showed that those who supported smart meters were more likely to have heard about them through an energy company (25% vs. 16% who opposed it). Those who opposed installation were more likely to have read about it through a newspaper article than respondents overall (18% vs. 12%).

Energy companies have a great opportunity to re-connect with their consumers through the roll-out, and therefore it is crucial that the process runs smoothly and the consumer has a positive experience throughout. There are three key steps that energy suppliers need to consider during installation to ensure the smart meter roll-out not only avoids any setbacks but actually builds a better relationship with their customers:

1. Securing the right skill set – With the smart meter roll-out mandating the installation of approximately 53 million smart meters in 30 million homes and small businesses between 2015 and 2019, the UK needs to up skill to make this happen safely and smoothly. The Energy & Utility Skills body suggests that up to 6,300 installers will be required to complete the smart metering roll-out across the UK between 2015 and 2019 and these installers will need a skill set that spans electricity, gas and mini radio networks. To guarantee that smart meter installers are fully qualified, it’s crucial that they undertake training that’s endorsed by the National Skills Academy for Power. Energy suppliers should also be certified by MOCOPA (Meter Operator Code of Practice Agreement) for electricity installations and MAMCOP (Meter Asset Manager Code of Practice) for gas installations.

2. Soft skills – It’s not only technical know-how that installers will need. Uncertainty around the rollout and negative coverage in the press means that installers will require a much broader set of softer skills than is normally expected from a meter installer. They must be able to effectively demonstrate the in home display (IHD) and overall smart metering system to enable consumers to get to grips with their energy use. The installer will also need to be armed with the facts and an understanding of the benefits that smart meters can bring in order to assuage any concerns the customer might have.

3. Code of practice – DECC has instructed that energy suppliers should follow a Smart Metering Installation Code of Practice, to ensure that all customers receive a high standard of service and that they know how to use the smart metering equipment before the installer leaves the property.
These steps aren't revolutionary, but it’s important to be aware of the impact getting any of these steps slightly wrong could have. With the smart meter roll-out, like any government initiative, under constant scrutiny, it’s crucial that energy suppliers take these tips on board if they are to make the roll-out a success.