Alliander’s smart meter maintenance team proves that small teams can deliver impressive results with the right processes and quality technologies.
Over the next five years, Alliander, a Netherland’s grid operator, plans to install 5.3 million smart meters. So far, 1 million smart meters have been installed and this year, the goal is to visit 447,000 adresses and install a electricity and gas meter.
The replacement of gas and electricity meters brings the grid operator in line with the Dutch target of replacing 90% of the meter stock by 2020.
While the remainder of their meter roll outs are still either in pilot or roll-out phase, managing their existing one million installed meters is already “business as usual” for Alliander. The grid operator and its customers are already reaping the benefits from the rollouts and higher operational efficiencies and lower costs are being reported.
The most surprising part of this success story is the size of the smart meter maintenance team-only 10 staff members. This is less than half of the staff that most utilities employ when it comes to run a smart meter environment.
Jeroen te Winkel, Manager of Liander’s Infostroom maintenance department within Alliander, explains in an exclusive interview with Engerati how his team does it.
“Firstly, all the main processes are fully automated and we manage only the exceptions. In other words, we focus on everything that is going wrong and then work towards fixing these problems. This is the best way in which to improve on the current status of operations-finding ways to do things better.”
“Secondly, while we implement multiple types of meters, we also work with proven technology. Before we introduce the meter, we check that it is of the utmost quality and that it meets government requirements.”
"Thirdly, we introduced business intelligence so that we are able to make use of data information that we need to work in an efficient manner."
Mr te Winkel says that their success relies heavily on pilots and testing “because this is where the best learning is.” He explains that while it is important to study the aspects of the technology before the pilot, it is equally important (if not more so) to see how the technology reacts in the field.
When it comes to big data from meters, obtaining the best quality from it becomes critical. Without it, it would be impossible to have a proper view of what is happening in the field and companies would miss the opportunity to fix potential problems, possibly saving a great deal of time and money for all concerned.
According to Mr te Winkel, big data is an ongoing challenge and calls for constant innovation and the right skill-set and technologies. He explains, “New processes and skills must be created to bring the real value of meter data to the surface.
“This is where quality smart meter management comes into play. Proper management will make it possible to guarantee a constant and high quality flow of data. It is important to note that meter maintenance and services should not end at the installation phase-it is an ongoing process to ensure high data quality.”
Smart meter rollouts in the Netherlands did not get off to an easy start. The Dutch, concerned over their privacy, strongly opposed smart meters. In fact today, the Dutch are not forced to have a smart meter installed on their property-it is voluntary.
In response to consumer fears over privacy and security, Alliander created a roadmap to secure their meter chain. High level security tests are carried out annually. The company also adheres strictly to legislation when it comes to privacy and security regulations and expectations.
Alliander shares its focus on meter security with customer organisations and through this channel, is able to keep up to date with customers’ perception of meters. Based on the information extracted from this engagement, Alliander is able to devise programmes to help customers understand the benefits of having a smart meter as well as its strong position when it comes to meter security and privacy.
Says Mr te Winkel “While we have only just started with the “big roll-out numbers”, we are working together with a few contractors to search for an ideal strategy to get the highest numbers of customers on board.”
In conclusion, he says of his team: “While we draw advice from other companies and their experiences, we apply it to Alliander’s needs, as well as our customers’. Our team has been working together for five years now and we all understand the processes of maintaining and running a smart meter system and technology. Through learning together and helping each other, we have created a strong team. Of course, the right suppliers, contractors, processes and technology have helped to create the successes we see today.”