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A Quick Guide to Smart Meters

Posted by Chloe Bennett on 26th July 2011

A smart meter is an electrical meter that records consumption of electric energy in intervals of an hour or less and communicates that information once or more daily to your energy supplier for monitoring and billing purposes.

In December 2009, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced its intention to have smart meters in all homes by 2020. This UK rollout of smart meters is considered to be the largest programme ever undertaken – involving visits to more than 27 million homes to replace meters for both electricity and gas.

The purpose of introduction

Traditional electrical meters only measure the total energy consumption and have never offered further information as to when and how the energy was consumed. Smart meters provide an economical way of measuring this information and can provide a number of potential benefits for homeowners.

These include:

A much desired end to the dreaded estimated bill. Through the rollout of the smart meter, householders will always receive accurate energy bills as their energy consumption will be correctly measured and submitted to their utility once or twice daily.

In House-Display to help consumers manage their energy bills. The home-display smart meters allow you to see how much your using and when it’s being used. Through this understanding you can pick a more suitable energy tariff/supplier or make changes to your current habits by managing your household’s energy consumption during peak usage hours.

Full control of your energy costs. The home-display will allow householder to have a better idea of how much your next bill is going to be, there will be no big surprises and it will be easier to budget.

A better environmental awareness. As you will have a better and more present idea of what you are spending, any cut back you make to decrease your overall energy usage will benefit the environment and reduce CO2 Emissions.

Smart Meters and the ‘in house-display’ (IHD)

In January 2011, the most intensive study of its kind was conducted by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. They reviewed more than 36 different residential smart metering and feedback programmes internationally and their conclusion was: “To realise potential feedback-induced savings, advanced meters (smart meters) must be used in conjunction with in-home (or on-line) displays and well-designed programmes that successfully inform, engage, empower and motivate people.”

Last July, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) set out ‘proposals for a minimum set of functional requirements for the IHD that should be provided to domestic customers. In the design requirements – smart metering implementation programme it was concluded that:

• The smart metering equipment should store 13 months (instead of 12 months) of half hourly consumption data.

• There will be guidelines for ambient feedback (i.e. visual, non-numerical display features of the IHD) and accessibility will be developed as part of the technical specifications work in the next phase of the programme.

As we get closer to the official 2012 launch for this initiative there will be a wider variety of Smart Meters available in the domestic market, however these proposals have now been concluded and consumers should see the above functions* embedded within the new smart meter devices. The DECC should be announcing comprehensive proposals for the technical specifications this month (July 2011.)

*To see a list of all the minimum functional requirements click here.

Who will be installing my Smart Meter?

Energy suppliers, such as E.ON UK and British Gas, have taken it upon themselves to kick-start this installation process and have outlined plans to install 100,000 smart meters in customers’ homes by the end of 2011 and ‘reach 1 million by the end of March 2014,’ taken from E.ON’s website.

This determination to be at the forefront of smart meter installation has led companies like E.ON to specially train installers; a spokesperson at the company says: "Eon-UK has helped develop a smart metering qualification, which is aligned to our current training offerings, and is now supporting the work to develop an apprenticeship route. We are also hoping to be one of the first organisations to gain accreditation from NSAP for the quality of our smart meter training programmes and academies. Eon-UK has also just opened a Smart Metering Centre of Excellence in Nottingham, providing a dedicated contact point for customers with smart meters."

The Smart Meter Installer

According to an article published on Utility Week , ‘Smart meter installers will need to have both technical know-how and customer interaction skills.’

However, the main recruitment challenge will be in identifying and training installers who have both dual-fuel technical skills and the "softer" skills required to explain the operation of smart meters to customers - this dual-fuel cross-training and up skilling is a key training need.

Some feel the government should sponsor the development of suitable apprenticeship schemes to support the mandate. Eon-UK, however, has taken the initiative itself.

"Field force engineers will have to have dual-fuel capability, know how to commission the communications for the smart meter, pair up the in-home display device (IHD) and explain how it works to the customer. This requires a much broader set of technical and softer skills than is normally expected from a meter installer," says the spokesperson from Energy & Utility Skills, whose qualifications are funded by the National Skills Academy.

The Energy & Utility Skills suggest that up to 6,300 installers will be required to complete the smart metering rollout across the UK between 2014 and 2019.

EU Skills also indicates that, with a high proportion of the existing metering workforce approaching the average retirement age for the industry over the next five years, we could see a need for around 4,000 new recruits during this period.

Protecting the householder

To stop energy companies from making their sales pitch whilst installing your smart meter, independent expert advice company Which?, have encouraged other suppliers to take up their ‘Which? Smart Meter Challenge.’ Companies who accept the challenge will not sell during the installation and their smart meter installers will not be on sales-related omission or have to make any sales leads. Several companies have taken up the challenge so far; Co-operative energy, Ecotricity and First Utility are amongst the first seven.

Image source:@utilityweek.co.uk & @mirror.co.uk

Categories: smart meter