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Dr. Hartmut Matzdorf - Energy

Dr. Hartmut Matzdorf
Senior Sales Manager Energy
Phone +49 30 726112-0

Smart Metering and Rollout

Rollout Process Manager for the smart meter rollout

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The rollout looms: practical experience from first movers

08/24/2015 -

The draft of a law governing the digitalization of Germany’s transition to a new energy economy has just been made public. But is this really the green light for the rollout? Or should those concerned already be well into their preparations? Some German energy providers are already working hard on the rollout, but is it a good idea to be doing this already? What exactly needs to be planned, decided, and organized before the first smart meter can even be rolled out? Read on for an overview of the key aspects that are driving the first movers in this field today.

“One step or two? That is the question.”

In its current form, the rollout regulation foresees smart metering systems being introduced in a tiered, step-by-step process based on demand classes. This means it would be possible, for instance, to start installing smart meters now, then change over to a smart metering system as mandated in subsequent years. The problem with this is that it doubles the number of site visits needed, greatly increasing costs. So, one step or two? That is the question, since multiple visits to a single metering point push up service personnel costs. That’s why many companies favor the idea of visiting metering points just once and installing the smart metering systems early on.

“A never-ending rollout?”

Ferraris meters have a service life of up to 40, even 60 years. Until the new regulation has been finalized, we have to assume that smart meters and smart metering systems will be in operation for 16 (8+8) years and 13 (8+5) years respectively. If the extension of the calibration period for smart meters is shortened to 5 years, this means the entire metering infrastructure will have to be replaced every 13 years. So after an initial increase in installation work thanks to the switch to smart metering, the annual volume of ongoing installations and replacements (not counting changeovers, fault clearances, etc.) will remain at more or less triple today’s level. This high level is due to the shorter operational periods for smart meters and metering systems. Ideally, companies should start by drawing up a comprehensive plan covering the entire service cycle, on the basis of which they can reach framework agreements with hardware manufacturers and external service providers – giving them scope to optimize costs.

“Process automation and logistics? Essential”

As metering becomes more and more complex, it is absolutely essential to automate processes as far as possible. There is no question of any processes occasionally still being carried out or monitored manually; instead, they will be managed and executed by numerous IT systems. But what is the real impact of having to deal with three or four times as many orders, delivery notes, and goods receipt and issue postings? It’s also imperative to be able to track each device, who receives it, when they receive it, and when they pass it on. Are existing systems in a position to cope with such volumes? Where is all the data collected? How can you monitor deviations from the plan and avoid them? At this point, it’s vital to orchestrate all the processes that relate to the rollout. Those energy providers who until now have operated their processes without planning tools or workforce management systems will either be building the necessary infrastructure themselves or relying on external service providers or even software-as-a-service offers.

“Which tasks will our service personnel perform in the future?”

Until now, grid service personnel worked predominantly on installing meters. For decades, the typical image associated with them has been one of a workman in overalls with a screwdriver in his hand. But digitalization could fundamentally change the grid service requirements profile.

One possibility is that technicians will use a laptop to check the gateway’s log files on site immediately after installation and commissioning to ensure that it recognizes the meter they installed. To do this, the technician will have received a certificate that the gateway can recognize from the gateway administrator in advance.

This is a completely different service technician profile, and will presumably incur significant training costs. So, multiple visits? Or investment in the necessary hardware, training, and possible waiting times on site? Here, too, the advantages and disadvantages must be weighed up very carefully.

Summary: The sooner the better?

The preparations necessary for the rollout are wide-ranging and costly. Before you start the rollout, you should analyze all the related processes and systems and how they interact. Initial reports from the field make it clear that we can expect the unexpected on a daily basis, and that the lack of experience means problems don’t necessarily have a clear solution. That makes it important to give priority to rollout preparations, make the necessary financial and human resources available, and get management involved. Once the official go-ahead has been given, you will be left with little scope to really optimize costs.