Are we being smart when we schedule smart meter installs?

Posted by Leadent Solutions on May 23, 2013

There’s no doubt that smart meters are coming of age and going mainstream – from their humble beginnings twenty years ago, to the roll out programmes now envisaged, indeed demanded by the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). They’ve come a long way, and now come complete with the Advanced Meter infrastructure to help us make the most of them. And, yes, the forerunner’s of today’s kit really was being looked at over twenty years ago – but you wouldn’t have wanted to pay for it back then.

The new meters bring some key benefits too, beyond the straight replacement of aging analogue kit. For example:

  • Eliminate meter read visits
  • Accurate billing
  • Energy use monitoring to facilitate consumer consumption and generation decisions

But deploying them is generally seen as quite a chore – especially given the timelines set out by the DECC. They seem to spawn huge implementations programmes, and whilst there are no doubt that these are more sophisticated pieces of kit, and that options for dual fuel only complicate the mix, there’s still a real risk that we are making the deployment more complicated than we need to.

However complex the meters and the infrastructure gets, installing them is still, fundamentally, a work force scheduling challenge. So here are a few thoughts to help keep a sense of perspective and to help keep it simple.

  • Keep a sense of the scheduling objective – to get the right person to the right place at the right time, with the right tools. True, they need asset data, and they need to carry out some tasks whilst on site, but try to avoid tangling these things together.
  • Don’t try to automate/recreate everything for the smart world – some, if not a great deal, of what is done on site now can be done in the same way with the same tools used today. Even if you do need to automate or add functionality, keep it as simple as possible, and don’t try to build it all into one app. And don’t conflate the onsite process with the scheduling process.
  • Don’t try to build it all at one go. Get the basics into place, then learn from the real world and augment your solution. It can always be extended later.
  • Think about processes and skills. While it undoubtedly helps to cross train for dual fuel, does everyone have to do it? Can you bring a team together on the fly? Is there one process in area, one for out of area?
  • Are you building for the roll out, or the resulting business? The new world will not look like the current one, Will you reuse the processes used to deploy smart meters, or are they disposable, to be replaced by new ones (especially in scheduling – the challenge will be rather different once the smart assets are in place.

Whilst there’s no doubt that, as a supplier, or a Meter Asset Manager, you still need to think about asset management, skills and training, engagement with 3rd parties, and lots of other things, that shouldn’t preclude some focussed thinking around agile scheduling solutions. Let’s aim to make everything as simple as possible.