Pulling together on smart meter rollout: a problem shared is a problem halved

By Rachel Eyres, Client Director - Energy and Utilities, Expleo.

With the clock ticking down to the 2020 deadline for a smart meter in every UK home, Expleo, the technology partner for innovative companies, makes the case for shared testing services, powered by automation.

The clock is ticking for energy suppliers to meet the government’s 2020 deadline for a smart meter in every UK home – and the media is holding the stopwatch. A major milestone was passed recently with the installation of the millionth second-generation (SMETS2) smart meter, with as many as 20 meters now being installed every minute of the day.

The energy suppliers who are responsible for driving the roll-out of smart meters are advancing into a stiff breeze. Their high priority assignment is made more taxing by the high-level of change occurring. Suppliers must respond to a diverse range of parallel challenges such as the enrolment and adoption of SMETS1, consumers switching supply, upgrades to firmware versions, ever-increasing variety of SMETS2 devices, and new DCC and adapter releases.

What began as a technical and operational challenge has now grown into a test of change management. Finding a way to respond in an agile and efficient way to these competing demands has become business critical. The need to assure devices and new releases is therefore growing in step – but then so too is the complexity of the testing. For example, the DCC will be releasing new Comms Hub firmware four times per year. This alone will drive the need to assure changes quarterly.

Make space for innovation

This comes at a time when in-house teams are stretched. Given that testing has moved from a competitive advantage to an overhead, the emergence of shared services and standardised processes provides a real opportunity to remove the need for non-core, repetitive testing. Put simply, these communal labs allow suppliers to offload some of the ‘boring operational stuff’, freeing them to focus on innovative products and services.

However, driving down operational costs can increase risk in terms of quality. Suppliers want to effectively deploy smart meters with a strong assurance that they will ‘go live’ without issues. Those suppliers that can get it right first time will move up the customer experience rankings, which are themselves a powerful marketing tool.

Shared testing allows suppliers to reduce operational costs, despite the growing market complexity, by streamlining a process that they are all doing anyway in multiple places all over the country.

Time and cost savings

Automation, especially in areas such as regression testing, could accelerate the process further. By working with an independent quality assurance specialist, installers can help ensure that smart meter programmes move to a steady state in a fast and safe way. By outsourcing repetitive tasks, such as testing of smart meters, the economies of scale will speed up delivery and drive down the cost of assurance – by as much as 60% and 50% respectively.

The news around smart meters is, therefore, more positive than it might at first seem. After all, if suppliers can migrate their customers successfully to the DCC, as part of the enrolment and adoption program, millions of people in the UK would regain their smart reading functionality. Getting SMETS2 right will drop many of the jigsaw pieces in place to enable a smart grid that will drive economic, environmental and social change.

Outsourcing quality assurance is just one step towards this smart energy future. Arguably, the 2020 deadline presents a false summit. A more pressing imperative is the need to improve smart operations – and therefore reduce expenditure, strengthen quality and improve the customer experience. The end of 2020 is no longer the destination, but rather a staging post on a much longer journey towards decarbonisation and a more flexible energy sector.

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