Smart Meter Installation
Connect with the facts and become a smart meter installer
It’s expected that most British households will have had smart meters installed by their energy company before 2020. However, making sure that enough technical and support staff are trained and able to implement this plan is an enormous challenge. The government’s Smart Metering Programme aims 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 rollout of smart meters is considered to be the largest installation programme ever undertaken: it involves visits to 30 million homes and 2 million small businesses to replace both electricity and gas meters.
A total of 935,400 domestic smart meters were installed by the large energy providers in the fourth quarter of 2016 (409,700 gas and 525,800 electricity meters). There are already almost 6 million smart and advanced meters operating across homes and businesses in Great Britain, installed by both large and small energy suppliers.
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 electronic device 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 utility company at least daily, for monitoring and billing purposes – there is no need for someone to visit the property to read the meter as is currently 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.
Installers in demand
It is clear, then, that there is an increasing demand for the many trained smart meter installers needed to deliver the government’s targets, which makes it a future employment route well worth considering. As a smart meter installer and technician, you are likely to work for between 35 and 40 hours per week, Monday to Friday, fitting new gas and electricity meters 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 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 UK 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 future career that gets you out and about, this could well be the right job for you!
What do smart meter installers do?
A typical job might follow this pattern:
- visit the customer’s premises at the appointed time
- remove the existing meter
- fit the new smart meter
- carry out tests to make sure the new meter is working correctly
- explain to the customer how to read the meter information and how to alter the settings to get the most from it
- 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.
TRANSLATE 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.
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 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. A spokesperson for Eon-UK, for example, says the company ‘has helped develop a smart metering qualification, which is aligned to our current training offerings, and is now supporting the work to develop an apprenticeship route. We are also hoping to be one of the first organisations to gain accreditation from NSAP for the quality of our smart meter training programmes and academies.’
As well as specific smart meter training courses, qualifications in maths, English, science, design and technology, or electronics would all be useful. 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.
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 ‘Key contacts’).
Use your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of training can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website at www.enhancedlearningcredits.co.uk and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to our in-depth features on pages 6-26.
Due to the ongoing rollout of the UK Smart Metering Programme, prospects for trained staff are good. Although the main effort to install smart meters in homes and small businesses will take place between now and 2020, work is already under way. To get involved, you need to apply directly to energy suppliers or installation contractors for a trainee position. You may also be able to get in through an apprenticeship scheme. 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.
It is thought that the staff involved in the rollout will be a mixture of current employees, new recruits and subcontractors. Some companies have estimated that, at peak times, they will potentially need four times their current level of staff. Conservative estimates from EU Skills’ workforce planning model (based on a dual-fuel installer scenario) suggest that up to 6,300 installers will be required to complete the smart metering rollout across the UK up to 2019. EU Skills also indicates that, with a high proportion of the existing metering workforce approaching the average retirement age for the industry over the next five years, there could be a need for around 4,000 new recruits during this period.
If these projections are correct, and 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 meter installation workforce’.
What could you earn?
Please note that the figures given here are a rough guide only.
Trainees can start on around £13,000 a year. Once qualified, this could rise to £21,000. Experienced installers working on short-term contracts may be able to earn between £24,000 and £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.