Q & A: The smart meter rollout

International engineering solutions company Actavo announced in October last year that it has built on its existing partnership with big six supplier Scottish Power by winning a five-year contract to deliver most of the programme to install smart meters in 1.5 million homes in Scotland.

Q & A:  The smart meter rollout

TJ Malone, Actavo’s chief executive, network and in-home division, says the key to overcoming the many installation challenges is a collaborative approach with DNOs, and a rigorous training programme. Network asked him about the programme.

How disruptive to the installation process are DNO-related issues?

There could be a number of different issues, which we are learning about. We have a very close working relationship with Scottish Power so if there are issues we will contact the company straight away. If we come across a problem, we would stop it or move offsite. We are trying to release area by area, street by street at the moment. If there are issues in that street, you move on to the next job. By the time you finish the next job you can come back and meet somebody to work through the problem.

Does a clear picture of the issues exist, or is it a continual learning process?

It’s a learning process, and not just for us. Scottish Power and the DNOs are finding issues too, so it’s new to them as well. We are essentially coming up with a checklist of things, mitigating those issues, finding solutions, reducing the number of issues, and then retraining our technicians as we go along. If we are getting a recurrent problem in a particular area we will possibly retrain our technicians to deal with that issue directly, but obviously we involve the DNO straight away.

When we did the initial training with our engineers and the initial consultation with the DNOs we agreed what would be an abort or cancellation of the job. But then you find that you are maybe having a large percentage of your cancellations due to a particular issue. Then you have to sit down collaboratively with the DNOs and work out how you are going to overcome that. A lot of times the solution is to retrain the operatives. That’s the norm in anything like this. In six months’ time a lot of these issues we have come across, they will just be business as usual by then.

There has been some concern voiced by GDNs that inexperienced installers will increase the risk of gas leaks. How have you worked to mitigated that risk?

Will the proportion of risk increase? Absolutely, but all we can do is train our guys to the very best, manage them and monitor them and carry out a huge amount of audits on the workmanship. Part of our software system allows us to do desktop audits where we take seven photographs of every single installation, showing all the connections. One hundred percent of our installations are desktop audited, with 15 % of them audited in the field
as well.

Why is your training programme innovative?

There is a real scarcity of smart meter installers across the country. As part of our submission to Scottish Power we were looking at how we could get enough people on board, in Scotland in particular. We approached three colleges with the view of designing a smart metering course, and gave them a commitment that we would take 200 engineers from it. It’s working very well at the moment. We have 48 installers out already, we have 16 of them in training at the moment, and we can put them through in batches of 16 as and when we step up our installation capacity.


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