On 28th November 2019, the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy released its quarterly update on Britain's smart meter rollout.
At first glance, the results look positive - 15.6 million smart meters operating in homes and businesses across the UK, an increase of 4.1%.
Take the broader view, however, and things don't look so rosy. With current installation rates, suppliers won’t hit the 85% government smart meter target until at least 2028 – four years after the new 2024 deadline, itself extended another four years from the original 2020 deadline.
What aren’t so familiar, however, are the pressures and $700m cost of failure in perhaps the most critical path of all - the physical installation of smart meters themselves.
In Q3 2019, we conducted primary research with a Big Six UK energy company to understand this critical path.
The results were sobering.
PROBLEM 1: TIME
Engineers had traditionally been allocated 84 minutes to install smart meters in each property, with a target eight meter installations per day. Due to ongoing errors and increased time required to fit the meters, however, installation time slots were increased to 111 minutes - meaning targets revised downwards to 6 meter installations per day.
For each installation, Engineers are provided with a handheld tablet linked to a central database, where they type in the key data for each property before any installation can commence.
By our calculation, this first step took approximately 15 minutes.
After that, a photo has to be taken on the tablet to record the old meter's condition. During our research, software glitches often caused the tablet to crash.
The result? Loss of all data and another 15 minutes re-typing the initial data.
PROBLEM 2: LOCATION
Due to the meter's physical location within the property, Engineers were sometimes unable to take clear photos of the meters - creating doubt in the Manager’s mind as to the correct installation of the new smart meter.
If an Engineer's suspected of an incorrect smart meter installation, they are taken ‘off the road’ so the matter can be investigated by an Area Manager.
Our research revealed that, in one regional team, 52% of Engineers were off the road and under investigation. To compound matters, it isn't uncommon for an Engineer to be off the road for several weeks - requiring other Engineers to cover the gap and leading to a negative cycle of more pressure, fatigue and mistakes.
This issue is replicated across other energy providers contracted with the installation of smart meters, a perennial industry problem and cost, every day of the year.
PROBLEM 3: REVIEW
The auditing process for installed smart meters is currently costly, random and inefficient.
Due to the software fault on the Engineer's tablet, Managers rely on Engineers emailing photos of the installed meters.
Reviewing the digital images is a manual process, subject to human error and potentially causing serious safety issues. In addition, the meter images are not centrally stored for future auditing purposes, with Engineers instead storing images on their mobiles.
If an Engineer is taken off the road and subject to an investigation, the Manager and an Auditor will attend the site where the Engineer was working when the error was identified. They will then cold call at the address of the customers who had their meters installed by the Engineer under investigation. On many occasions, the customers are not home, so the meters cannot be inspected.
In theory, the Manager and Auditor should therefore return to the customer's address. In practice, however, this isn't always the case - with the meter installations remaining unreviewed and a potential compromise in health and safety.
THE COST OF FAILURE
In the UK alone, the downstream industry cost of such 'inefficiencies' in smart meter installation is over $700 million per year - plus an estimated carbon footprint of over 40,000 tonnes.
Current technology involves taking pictures on tablets, which are buggy, bulky and liable to take sub-optimal, out of focus images. This relies on the picture then manually being checked by more senior employees within the organisation - which is costly and inefficient.
At 22i, we focus on the triple bottom line to mitigate risk, drive efficiencies and social impact.
Our AI strips out much of the manual cost of safe smart meter installation.
Our AI checks and records the correct procedures are carried out when installing a smart meter - ensuring consistent, cross-comparable work audits and removing the cost of physically inspecting an Engineer’s work.
Our AI enables real time verification that installation conforms to best working practices, records all results and stores them securely on the cloud.
This enables our clients to:
Maximize the daily number of meter installations - increasing the opportunity for electricity providers to meet government targets.
Reduce industry sanctions, costs and fines for missed targets.
Deliver a Zero Harm industry by reducing injuries to Engineers and customers.
Reduce carbon footprint by eliminating the need for Managers and Auditors to physically check smart meter installations.
Empower the workforce to meet their daily targets and reduce time off the road - meaning greater efficiencies, less pressure and less stress.
Open the door to the creation of a de facto global, industry standard for smart installation.
With all the talk of smart grids, smart cities and Industry 4.0, it's easy to overlook the basics - the upstream, physical installation of smart meters themselves.
Strip it all back, however, and it starts with those first 111 minutes - the critical path.
That's where we come in.