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Going Beyond Smart Meter Challenges

Overcoming smart meter challenges requires more than a sustained energy efficiency strategy, says Colin Beaney, global industry director, energy and utilities, IFS

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Colin Beaney, global industry director, energy and utilities, IFS
Colin Beaney, global industry director, energy and utilities, IFS

Smart meter installations that have been around for some time in many parts of the world, are now installing second or third generation devices. According to Metering and Smart Energy International, over the next five years, emerging markets including the Middle East will deploy nearly 250 million meters, representing an investment of almost $35bn.

According to a special report in 2015 , Strategy& reported that energy usage in the UAE had grown at an annual average of 4 percent over the previous six years, with projections that it will increase to 5 percent through 2020. Overall electricity consumption has more than doubled in the previous 10 years, at a pace that will be difficult to provide for over the long term. According to the report, one relatively straightforward measure to slow the growth of energy consumption was a sustained energy efficiency strategy.

Luis Ortega, Managing Director, IFS Middle East, Africa and South Asia, feels that such a strategy could lead to substantial reductions in consumption and could be implemented swiftly and at relatively little expense. However, the challenges for this sector are many, but we are focusing on three, in particular, here.

Customer engagement

Ideally, what all the suppliers involved do not want to do is provide a service to the consumers that is less than perfect and that must be the main objective. Consumers need to feel that they are being treated uniquely, which is difficult to do within such huge programs. Customers are demanding instant gratification, and this dictates a new kind of service experience; one that is faster, more interactive, but one that also caters to self-service.

Another problem is that to meet the rollout demands, energy providers will need to train a lot of staff very quickly. Once smart meters are installed, however, general asset maintenance will be much more straightforward. Energy providers will benefit from automatic alerts, received directly from malfunctioning or outdated meters, and service engineers will be automatically dispatched with the correct equipment and knowledge.

Resource optimization

Once you (as the supplier) have fixed an appointment with the customer, you have got to hit it, meet the SLA, complete the work in one visit and provide a service that the customer will remember for all the right reasons. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case in many instances, for example, during initial investigations when engineers arrive at a site and suggest that a different skill-set may be required to complete the work. This is often difficult to anticipate without an initial visit.

This can be minimised easily by providing the householder with a simple means of uploading information including photos of their existing meter install. This data can then be analysed to determine where pockets of differing work scopes could be located. This can then be used to further optimise and refine the scheduling logic to drive down the need for repeat visits.

Logistics management

The management of the physical meters is, in itself, not a small undertaking and a supply chain application needs to be utilised. That application must be able to ensure that the whole lifecycle from procurement, warehousing through issue, installation/swap-out, return and disposal is efficiently controlled. When you then factor in ownership, rental charges, warranty, specification updates, software updates and other considerations, MDMS packages handle much of this information but the installers and supply companies may be using different packages to try and manage the process.

The solution that we propose is to use IFS as a constituent part of the Smart Meter Program, either through the customer engagement solution, the best-in-class field service management (FSM) solution or our enterprise software offerings for the energy and utilities industry.

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