Smart Meter Installation
Spurred by the cost of living crisis, there’s a backlog of consumers waiting for their energy provider to supply and fit a smart meter, boosting demand for installers nationwide …
Smart meters: what’s the hold-up?
Even before the current energy crisis took hold, the government’s smart meter installation programme aimed to roll out more than 50 million smart gas and electricity meters to all domestic properties, and smart or advanced meters to smaller non-domestic sites in Great Britain. The initial plan was for the majority of British households to have a smart meter installed by their energy company before 2020. Then came Covid … and the industry continues to struggle to catch up.
Recent reports have highlighted that energy companies are again set to miss their targets for installing smart meters this year, amid reports of supply chain and staffing issues. Ofgem, the industry regulator, had set domestic firms a target of installing nearly three million smart meters in 2022, but with only 1.7 million installed in the first nine months of the year, it seems unlikely this target will be met by the end of 2022. To do so would require companies to nearly double their current installation rates, which seems far from possible in an industry beset by staffing shortages and other obstacles.
On top of this, one industry source is reported as saying that cost concerns during the energy crisis and subsequent staffing shortages are leading companies to cut corners with regard to installations. Customers have complained of waiting lists of weeks, or even months, to get an appointment for a smart meter installation. Currently, about half of British households have a smart meter, with an extended target for suppliers having recently been set: to have the devices in all homes by 2025.
However long it ends up taking, the rollout of smart meters is considered the largest installation programme ever undertaken in the UK, involving visits to 30 million homes and 2 million small businesses to replace both electricity and gas meters. And, as highlighted above, making sure that sufficient technical and support staff are trained and able to implement the plan is an enormous challenge.
What is a smart meter?
Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meters, offering a range of intelligent functions, which include telling consumers how much energy they are using via a display in their home or business. The meter is an electronicdevice that records the consumption of energy; unlike previous models, though, it enables two-way communication between the meter and the central system, which means that can be communicated back to the utilitycompany at least daily, for monitoring and billing purposes – there is no need for someone to visit the property to read the meter as is the case with traditional meters.
Smart meters allow customers to keep track of how much energy they use in real time, and let them to see which of their appliances use the most power. The aim is to help them reduce their energy usage and so cut bills. Smart meters bring a range of benefits for consumers: they offer near real-time information on energy use, expressed in pounds and pence, allowing them to better manage their energy use and get accurate bills, as they are billed only for energy actually used.
What do smart meter installers do?
As is abundantly clear from this article’s opening paragraphs, there is a growing demand for the many trained smart meter installers needed to deliver the government’s targets, which makes it an employment route well worth considering.
As a smart meter installer/technician, you are likely to work for between 35 and 40 hours per week, Monday to Friday, fitting the high-tech devices in customers’ homes and businesses. You may also be part of a standby rota for jobs outside normal working hours, which could include weekends and, therefore, overtime pay. Some installation sites may be outdoors, so you should be prepared to work in all weathers.
During the installation process, you will also demonstrate to customers how to use their new meters, as well as provide impartial energy efficiency advice (although you won’t be required to sell energy plans or tariffs). You might find yourself working for one of the major energy companies, or perhaps for a smaller firm that has a contract to install smart meters. Whoever your employer, they would normally provide you with a van to get from job to job, which means that a full valid driving licence is required.
Once the meters have been installed you may also be called upon to maintain and repair them later – which is worth remembering as it extends the job role well beyond the initial rollout period.
So if you have good practical skills, get on well with people from all walks of life, and are looking for a new career that gets you out and about, this could well be the right job for you!
THE DAY JOB
A typical job might follow this pattern:
1. Visit the customer’s premises at the appointed time.
2. Remove the existing meter.
3. Fit the new smart meter.
4. Carry out tests to make sure the new meter is working correctly.
5. Explain to the customer how to read the information on the meter and how to alter the settings to get the most from it.
6. Answer any further questions the customer may have.
Have you got what it takes?
Appropriate training is being developed for all the different types of staff involved in the smart meter rollout – from installers to those designing and manufacturing the meters. The main challenge, though, will be to identify and train installers who have both dual-fuel technical skills as well as the ‘softer’ skills required to explain clearly to customers how to use their new smart meter.
This dual-fuel cross-training and upskilling is a key training need. Indeed, a spokesperson for one of the main UK utility companies has said that, ‘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 (IHD) device and explain to the customer how it works. This requires a much broader set of technical and softer skills than is normally expected from a meter installer.’
You are also likely to need background checks through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) before you can work in people’s homes. Your employer would arrange for these to be carried out.
TRANSFER YOUR SKILLS
As a smart meter installer, you will need:
- an aptitude for maths
- sound practical skills
- good organisational skills
- excellent customer care skills
- the ability to work alone
- excellent communication skills to explain how meters work
- self-motivation and a commitment to your own career development
- an awareness of safe working practices.
How do I qualify as a smart meter installer?
Smart meter installation qualifications have been developed and accredited for both gas and electricity, and now Energy & Utility Skills (EU Skills), whose qualifications are funded by the National Skills Academy for Power (NSAP), is developing an intermediate level (level 2) apprenticeship in Dual Fuel to support the government’s smart meter strategy.
City & Guilds offers a level 2 qualification – Smart Metering (7428) – which is aimed at those installing gas or electrical smart meters, and allows candidates to learn, develop and practise the skills required to install and maintain smart meters and communication devices. The gas and dual-fuel pathways lead to Gas Safe registration for those working in the gas and power industries installing and maintaining smart meters. Some of the major utility companies have also taken the initiative to provide suitable training. As well as specific smart meter training courses, qualifications in maths, English, science, design and technology, or electronics would all be useful.
SMART METER INSTALLATION APPRENTICESHIPS
Many of the big energy companies offer apprenticeships in ‘smart metering – dual fuel’, which can take six to nine months to complete. These combine classroom-based learning with on-the-job experience, working alongside a qualified smart meter installer. You can also learn how to install smart meters if you are training to be a gas installation engineer on the Gas Industry Apprenticeship. As a trainee installer, you would combine technical training with work placements and receive mentoring from a qualified member of staff. Alternatively, use your favourite search engine to discover more options. Or browse the government’s apprenticeship website or Find Apprenticeships, both of which allow you to search for apprenticeship opportunities by area of interest and location.
You could also work towards the level 2 Diploma in Smart Metering. This qualification has three options – power, gas or dual-fuel – and you choose the one that covers the meters you want to work with. Training in gas or dual-fuel smart meters will also lead to your inclusion on the Gas Safe Register, which demonstrates that you are qualified to install meters safely. Once qualified, your employer will also certify you as competent through the Meter Operation Code of Practice Agreement (MOCOPA).
Check out the individual energy suppliers’ websites for details of their training schemes. You can find a full list of suppliers via Ofgem (see ‘Useful info’).
Use your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELCAS website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on the Quest website
Finding a job
Due to the ongoing, extended rollout of the UK Smart Metering Programme, prospects for trained staff are good. The main effort to install smart meters in homes and small businesses is already well under way. To get involved, you need to apply direct to energy suppliers or installation contractors for a trainee position. You may also be able to get in through an apprenticeship scheme (see box). You could find work with an energy company, construction firm, specialist installation firm or housing association.
With experience, you could become a team leader or estimator, or set up your own installation business. With further training, you could become an energy efficiency consultant, or move into gas or electrical engineering with an energy company.
If the rollout does create a wealth of new jobs, what will happen to these employees at the end of the rollout period? As mentioned above, there will still be a need for maintenance and repair technicians. Experts in the field have commented that, ‘no programme is ever complete and there will continue to be a wave effect’, and ‘there will be an ongoing role for the smart meter installation workforce’.
What could you earn?
Please note that the figures given here are intended as a rough guide only.
Although trainees are likely to start on significantly less, for qualified installers pay could rise to £21,000. Experienced installers working on short-term contracts may be able to earn up to £30,000. Some companies may include expenses and mileage as part of the salary package. At least in the early years, it seems likely that cross-trained installers will be in high demand and will consequently be able to command salaries that are higher than average.