The deployment of smart metering in the UK is starting to gain momentum with around 3.5 million Smart Meters already on the walls of Britain’s homes and businesses. As the programme accelerates deployment, some might recall that if all had gone to ‘plan’ we would already have a few Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications 2 (SMETS2) meters on the walls. That’s not the case, the SMETS1 rollout is greater than expected, but with the Data Communications Company (DCC) go live finally around the corner it’s time to turn our attention to how to manage the transition to SMETS2.
The reduction in deployment costs that SMETS2 represents might tempt some to go with a “Big Bang” approach to the switch, quickly curtailing their procurement of SMETS1 and replacing them with SMETS2 assets which are up to 50 per cent cheaper, and reduce the exposure of being left holding redundant assets. However, a premature transition to SMETS2 would expose suppliers’ programmes to additional risks. A view potentially shared by BEIS given the low installation target set for the first few months of DCC operations.
Over the past few years we have helped our clients improve their SMETS1 rollout, and many of the lessons are transferrable to the SMETS2 journey, while others, like integration with the DCC will be addressed for the first time. Some of the key challenges include:
- Supply Chain readiness: The advent of SMETS2 and accompanying Communications Hubs will create a complex problem for the smart metering supply chain. Being able to balance stock levels in different geographies matching to communications service networks and field force skills is key. If a supplier can limit costly stock holdings and reduce the risk of being left with excess SMETS1 meters, all whilst maintaining sufficient materials to keep field forces running optimally they will have significant advantage over other parties
- commissioning optimisation: Some parties have used the foundation stage to optimise SMETS 1 commissioning, as this has a material impact of field productivity (in time and an increased number of successful installations). Work will need to be conducted again across meter manufacturers, back end systems and the DCC to optimise this key activity
- hypercare: We have seen from SMETS1 delivery that despite testing you will always find issues in the field that are not apparent during testing. The initial weeks and months need a form of “hypercare” to ensure issues are spotted early, resolution owners are identified and fixed deployed quickly and effectively
- collaboration: The network of service and asset providers is vast. Suppliers take an integrating role and will need to have strong working relationships to resolve critical issues, such as meter firmware issues where fixes need to be developed and deployed effectively to avoid poor service.
This, against a backdrop of SMETS2 being launched near the peak of the rollout, will mean that suppliers will have a much shorter timeframe to learn and improve. This time next year no more SMETS1 will be allowed to be deployed, meaning that the largest suppliers will be deploying thousands of these meters per week while making the transition.
If suppliers are going to be successful they need to use the time between DCC go-live and the end of SMETS1 wisely, balancing the required learning about SMETS2 and the DCC, while still installing enough meters to mitigate the huge installation peaks most of them are facing going into 2018/2019. Continued use of SMETS1 will allow them to strike that balance and allow a measured ramp up of SMETS2, but learning fast will be key.