How to roll out smart meters: tips and experience from practice
In my recent blog post “Smart meter rollout: established utilities are tapping new markets“, I highlighted three hot topics of the smart meter rollout from our current discussions with network operators. Today, I am focusing on two specific aspects: first, three pieces of advice from an innovation manager on the energy market, and second, the experience of a network operator that has already prepared for the smart meter rollout.
Tip no. 1: Learning before performing
Establish a rollout team that embraces a culture of learning . You want the team members to have the mindset of “It’s ok to allow ourselves not to be successful right away.” Once you have set up the role of the innovation manager, you have to fulfill the requirements for successful action. Support from management at this point is evidently a critical factor for success.
Tip no. 2: Cyclical iterative before linear
Make learning cycles an integral part of the rollout plan. Energy provider EWE NETZ applied the agile scrum approach in developing its rollout management system. From the outset, sprints were held every two weeks, and then weekly during the final stages in late 2015. Sprint reviews were organized by the partner in charge of developing the software system.
The rollout management system itself also supports an iterative control process for the various steps: plan, execute, manage, evaluate, and control.
Defining and establishing the key measurement parameters is crucial, as this enables a standardized evaluation of the success of each learning cycle, e.g. the sprint.
Tip no. 3: Highly focused before broadly based
Use pioneering customers and products to find out quickly and inexpensively what actually works. This also includes testing and iterating the selected technologies, processes, and partners until sufficiently substantiated facts are available to allow scaling. The customer proximity necessary for this approach is new ground for many grid operators. Yet they are the first to admit that the current preparatory and follow-up measures for the meter rollout do not go nearly far enough.
The following are the takeaways from a joint project we conducted with our customer EWE NETZ, in which they implemented the approach outlined above.
For a number of years now, EWE NETZ has been preparing for the rollout of the smart metering infrastructure. Since 2009, it has rolled out only electronic meters. It has been selecting and setting up the necessary technologies since 2012, and in 2013, the company began creating and establishing the right process organization. They mean business, and their motto says it all: “Rollout. Not just any old way. The right way.”
Takeaway no. 1: Be prepared for changing your rollout strategy
TODAY, the rollout strategy is mainly asset-based, i.e. the priority is on replacing the oldest devices, which are on average 35 years old. TOMORROW, the priority will be to stay aligned with customer groups and the capacity of the service providers.
Takeaway no. 2: Everything springs from the electronic delivery note
The electronic delivery note provides the basis for the high degree of automation of all the processes involved. There’s no getting around it! And in turn, the processes can’t be managed without seamless automation all the way through to the completion of the job. This also includes mechanisms in order to check and guarantee the quality of the rollout.
Takeaway no. 3: The ability to make subsequent adjustments is an absolute must
Carrying out adjustments throughout the year up to the metering point is an application that needs to be implemented in the software system, which has to support planning down to the monthly level. Moreover, it must allow for flexible reaction to fluctuations. For example, if a batch of meters become inoperational, this suddenly changes the planning parameters by thousands of devices! Service providers might wind up with bottlenecks, and who knows what else might happen…
Takeaway no. 4: Highly qualified service providers are key
One current focus is to find suitably qualified service providers. This also includes
- Making sure the replacement clusters are defined in a way that makes calls for tender an attractive proposition. This is why the software system stores the various service providers and their qualifications (e.g. are they able to clear faults and install smart metering systems?) and you can make selections based on master data properties – mandatory cases, customer groups, devices, etc.
- Ensuring smooth collaboration with the service providers, e.g. by making sure all necessary information is available in the technician’s system and also issuing prompt and regular payments.
- Speed: in the rollout management system, it takes less than a minute to pair gateway and meter, and making the necessary configurations is just as fast – metering and monitoring can start without delay.