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16/12/2014

Recommendations for a smart metering success

The large-scale rollout of the smart meter in the Netherlands is just around the corner, starting in 2015. Many (European) countries have carried out pilot projects, while some have already completed the rollout. In this article, we draw the lessons learned from international smart metering projects and provide valuable recommendations to Dutch grid operators and market players for the large-scale rollout in the Netherlands.

 
Introduction

In 2015 all Dutch grid operators will start with the large-scale rollout ( 'Grootschalige Aanbieding, GSA') of the smart meter. The installation and operation of the new meter will have a major impact on consumers, market parties, grid operators and its subcontractors. Over the past years almost one million smart meters have been installed in the Netherlands in new buildings, on client request ('prioplaatsing') or following renovations, allowing the grid operators to gain experience with the technology and the small-scale rollout process.

Also in many other countries the smart meter rollout is planned to take place within the next five years. Concretely, the EC expects 72% of electricity meters within the EU-28 to be "smart" by 2020. Some countries have already completed the smart meter rollout (Italy, Sweden and Finland), while others have carried out various pilot projects. The French grid operator ERDF, for example, carried out a pilot project in 2010 with the support of Sia Partners, which involved the installation and operation of nearly 300.000 smart meters.

Based on this pilot and additional research on international smart metering projects, Sia Partners provides some aggregated recommendations to Dutch grid operators on how to make the smart meter rollout a success.

Customer trust

One aspect that comes forward in nearly all evaluations of pilot projects and completed rollouts, is the importance of gaining the customer's trust in the smart meter. Nearly all potential benefits rely on customers having a positive attitude towards the smart meter. Without trust, the perceived benefits are unlikely to materialise and the rollout will become a long and arduous process. For example, customers may block the installation of the smart meter, choose for the administrative-off option (if possible - not all countries provide this option) or simply take on an indifferent attitude towards the smart meter and its complementary energy-saving products and services.

To gain trust and acceptance, a large scale information and awareness campaign is required, providing the customer with information on the key meter functionalities, the general benefits and the benefits to the customer, and the rollout planning. In addition, to increase customer engagement and enhance knowledge transfer of the functionalities and benefits of the smart meter, it is recommended that the meter installation is executed by staff of the grid operator itself.

A second recommendation is to introduce a "Smart Meter or Large Scall Rollout Label", that consumers all over the country can recognize. This helps support public awareness and strengthens the DSO-specific communications that are already in place.

Another important aspect regarding customer trust is that of privacy protection. In many countries, the protection of privacy, (e.g. data relating to energy usage profiles, personal information, historical data) made up an important share of the political debate, delaying the smart meter rollout. In the Netherlands, this issue has now disappeared from the public agenda, but during the coming years the debate could re-ignite. Grid operators therefore should make undoubtedly clear which parties are allowed access to meter data, while specifying the grounds and conditions for third-party access.

Data management and IT infrastructure

The introduction of the smart meter causes an enormous increase in data flows. Just the meter readings alone cause an increase of data with a factor 35.000, when considering a switch from annual to fifteen minutes readings. However, smart meters can provide far more information than just the consumption data, for example on technical aspects like grid voltage and frequency or on specific events such as outages and disruptions. In addition, the meter firmware has to be updated from time to time, increasing total data flow. Based on the current experience of grid operators this flow is almost always much larger than expected. Telecommunication infrastructure and/or contracts are often based on an optimal data flow, not taking into account the additional capacity needed to deal with possible failures regarding communication or readings. As a result, the available IT-capacity could prove to be insufficient.

Also data management processes at grid operators and retailers are likely to be revised due to the new data flows. Not only with regard to the collection and processing of the data, but also to the total meter park management. Manual data processing and correcting is no longer an option due to the size of the data stream, and the relevant IT infrastructure should be assessed on its capability of dealing efficiently with large amounts of data. Besides the requirements imposed on IT infrastructure, the meter data provides a wealth of information that can be exploited by grid operators, independent service companies ("Onafhankelijke dienstenaanbieders; ODAs") and retailers to add value for their own benefit or that of customers and other stakeholders.

For grid operators, most value can be added when the data is used in processes such as asset investment planning, outage reduction and fraud detection. However, rollout targets for DSOs are mainly focused on the installation itself, not on using available meter data for optimisation purposes nor on reaping the benefits of the (social) business case, which is considered to be the responsibility of the government. Given the fact that it may take a significant amount of time to realise the opportunities of smart meter data, market players should have strategy on how to benefit from the huge improvement possibilities the data provides.

Services and products

The smart meter on itself does not save energy. Only when the use of the meter triggers a change in consumption behaviour or technology the benefits of smart meter are reaped. In order to provide customers with insight in their consumption patterns, complementary products and services are required such as online portals or home devices (www.energieverbruiksmanagers.nl).

First experiences have shown that home devices visualising energy consumption are more effective in triggering a change in consumption behaviour. The development and offering of such products is therefore critical to the success of the smart meter. However, as most of these services are provided by parties other than the grid operator, they could be informed on when and where smart meters will be installed. To ensure transparent and non-discriminatory behaviour, this information could be published in the form of open data. This allows suppliers and ODAs to benefit from the momentum that is created with the installation of the meter. In addition, an opportunity for national governments is created to leverage on the meter rollout by educating consumers about energy efficiency.

Logistics

The French pilot with the smart meter ('Linky) started in 2010 and concerned the installation and operation of 270.000 meters in both urban and rural areas. Due to the involvement of Sia Partners in various phases of the pilot, we have been able to obtain relevant insights.

The most striking lessons learned here concern the logistics of installing the meters. Due to delays in the supply process, many different hard- and software versions for the meter were used, resulting in issues with the meter readouts. Also a tracking system for meters and equipment was lacking, which caused the non-localisation of many items. Very limited insight existed regarding the meter stock, both at the supplier as at the grid operator itself. Finally, many grid operators do not have experience with large-scale logistic processes, and may require additional expertise. The recommendation is to keep stocks small so as to prevent the existence of multiple meter versions, and at the same time make use of a tracking system to keep track of meters and equipment.

Personnel

The success of the smart meter rollout relies heavily on the technicians that install the meter at customers. Clear instructions, relevant training and good communication skills are important to successfully install the meter. For larger grid operators it is likely that subcontractors will perform the meter installation, for which it is vital to draw up a clever contract between operator and contractor, assuring that that the right incentives are in place for a successful rollout. For example, for the Linky project these contracts contain a bonus-malus scheme, rewarding the subcontractor when certain KPIs are met.

The meter rollout, however, does not only rely on the technicians - the departments dealing with customer support, IT and marketing and communications may see a significant increase in workload as well. It is important for grid operators not to expect savings in personnel early after the installation of the meter. Instead, grid operators should take into account that the operation of smart meters may in fact increase the workload, at least in the first few years.

Still many challenges lie ahead, for all parties involved. The major operational and logistic challenge for DSOs, the introduction of smart and affordable home saving equipment for ODAs and/or suppliers and the tracking and reaping the financial and social benefits for the sector as a whole. Sia Partners is willing and able to support you in meeting this challenges.

Sia Partners

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