COVID-19 Halts Smart Meter Rollouts

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2Q 2020 | IN-5786

The global pandemic that is currently taking place is causing several disruptions for current plans for smart meter rollouts. Many countries, the United Kingdom included, are practicing social distancing procedures to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and therefore future non-essential work is currently being put to a halt.

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All Non-Urgent Installation Plans Paused Due to COVID-19


The global pandemic that is currently taking place is causing several disruptions for current plans for smart meter rollouts. Many countries, the United Kingdom included, are practicing social distancing procedures to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and therefore future non-essential work is currently being put to a halt.

Wessex Water is currently not accepting new applications from customers to switch to smart water meters and has temporarily put the installation of those who have already applied for a new meter on hold, so that it can ensure the complete safety of its staff and installation teams. It’s not only water utilities that are making these decisions, as Energy UK also confirms that its members have halted all non-urgent smart meter installations.

Causing Implications for Utilities


Though there are currently hundreds of thousands of smart meters in the United Kingdom, the disruption to rollouts means that utility and meter Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEMs) are going to have to increase their productivity and most likely hire and train additional field service staff in the coming years to be able to meet the government’s ambition for nationwide rollout. The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) published a report in 2018 that recommended that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) enable all water utility companies to implement compulsory metering in the United Kingdom by 2030. The original target within the energy sector was to have a nationwide rollout by 2020, which was then diluted to a target of 85% of homes and business having a smart meter installed by 2024, though this is dependent on the length of time this pandemic continues to last; in addition to the recovery period, the regulatory deadlines in place are likely to be prolonged and re-evaluated.  

The impact of the COVID-19 virus is causing both short- and long-term effects on the meter rollouts for both energy and water utilities. The significant short-term effect of the virus is the immediate halt to all operations in regard to the installations of new meters, meaning that all members of the ecosystem will have to plan for larger future deployments to take place. This also means that the utilities workforce is having to continue meter readings manually, which becomes more time and cost consuming for utilities in comparison to the remote management enabled by meters.

This also means that, in the long term, utilities and meter providers are going to be under more pressure to be able to get projects rolled out in a suitable time frame to be able to meet the planned target within the United Kingdom. Larger rollouts will take place, inevitably meaning a larger number of meters will be deployed. Meter Data Management (MDM) platforms will be faced with a large number of connections taking place, and therefore it is crucial to develop their business models to be able to offer the relevant solution to the relevant utilities. Due to the water metering market still being immature in comparison to the metering market for its energy counterpart, water MDM platforms are not as readily available. For this reason, several vendors have adapted their data models to create a solution that is suitable for a water utility, rather than creating a readily available water meter solution.

Time-Out for Planning and Adaptation


Due to the likelihood of future rollouts being increased in size, meter OEMs providing utilities with both water and energy meters should plan for larger shipments to take place in 2021 by ramping up manufacturing capacity as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Smart meter OEMs will also need to re-asses their supplier ecosystem to identify vulnerabilities and take necessary steps to ensure their suppliers are concentrated in any one region. Utilities should be planning ahead to appropriately deal with the influx of applications for meters in geographic areas where there are no current mass rollouts planned.

Even with the likelihood of regulatory deadlines to be postponed, larger rollouts will inevitably commence as, during this time, utilities will be learning how important having meters deployed will be for their workforce management. In addition to this, it would be beneficial to platform providers to invest in having the ability to offer platforms for the two separate utilities—many offer platforms for water utilities based on their energy platform, with specific customizations made so that the platform is suited for the water utility customers. It would be beneficial for two separate platforms to exist so that integration doesn’t cause further disruption for the rollouts that will be planned.

For utilities, the key priorities right now are to ensure that there will be no disruption to services they offer for all users, especially those in a vulnerable category. All standard meter rollouts are being put on hold, yet any emergency matters will be seen to as long as the workforce required is able to stick to the government’s guidelines on social distancing. One of the challenges that water utilities especially will be facing during these times will be discovering water wastage without the help of meters—one of the most significant benefits of the use of water meters enables utilities to be able to remotely discover leakages and burst pipes so that the relevant work can take place.  

One of the significant impacts COVID-19 has had on utilities in regard to ensuring that their maintenance work can take place is that the workforce has to be reduced due to social distancing regulations and restrictions on movement, which therefore means it is likely that some maintenance tasks may not be able to take place due to their requiring more than one person to complete. Not only this, but some tasks may also not be established in an efficient manner, and therefore could end up worsening before flagging the utilities’ radars. The use of technology can reduce this due to the data collected portraying where problems are being caused. This prevents sending the remaining workforce out to patrol and search for problems, and therefore enables the ability to ensure that any occurring issues can be solved in a more efficient manner.

For those utilities already operating a high number of meters, it will be established how useful having the metering services is for the maintenance of offering their utility service to their customers. Utilities operating a smaller number of meters around the country will realize just how important they are due to the data they are collecting, allowing their service to run in a smoother manner. It will encourage the future rollouts and allow utilities to plan for their digital transformation to ensure that they have as many meters rolled out and in action as possible. Larger rollouts will be useful, though not essential—the essential area of investment for utilities is ensuring they have a compatible and scalable MDM platform to collate the data collected from the meters that are rolled out.



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