Given my line of work, it might come as a surprise to some that I would argue a smart meter is not a panacea to use to tackle rising consumer energy bills. The fact is, a smart meter on its own is a useful tool for the energy industry, but it requires behavior change, based on the data a smart meter provides, to see a real impact on bills. As a result, if the roll-out is to deliver on the energy saving promises, we need to ensure that consumers are fully engaged and understand how to make the most of their meter.
One of the most touted benefits of smart meters is that they provide automatic updates, no longer requiring meter readings. So once the roll-out kicks off in earnest in 2015, the installations themselves will be key to engaging consumers, as this will be the only real human interaction most people will have around their new smart meter.
This is even more important when you consider the negativity around the roll-out in the press, with stories on privacy issues and the cost of the program never far from the headlines. With many people keen to find fault with smart meters, energy suppliers need to be on top of their game to ensure that the roll-out does not attract additional criticism that could alienate their customers and further damage trust by overlooking simple measures to ensure installation runs smoothly. Possible pitfalls include anything from badly informed or discourteous installers, to errors made during the actual installation itself.
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 between energy companies and their customers:
- 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 2014 and 2019, the UK needs to upskill to make this happens 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 2014 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.
- Education, education, education – It’s not only technical know-how that installers will need. Uncertainty around the roll-out and negative coverage in the press means that installers will require a much broader set of soft skills than is normally expected from a meter installer. Government advice states that installers must provide energy efficiency advice as part of the visit, so 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.
- Leave the hard sell at the door – In order for consumers to trust that smart meters will deliver real benefits, there should be no sales during the installation visit. In an ideal world installers would need the consumer’s permission in advance of the visit if they want to talk to them about their own additional products and services, although this would probably be better left to another time altogether.
These steps aren’t rocket science, but they should ensure that the smart meter roll-out progresses smoothly once installations begin, and that consumers have the best understanding of how to change their behavior to see real benefits from their smart meter.
David Stroud is general manager of EDMI Europe.