European energy giant Vattenfall has long experience in smart metering, dating back as far as 1998.
After becoming one of the first companies to complete a national rollout of smart metering in Europe in Sweden in 2008, Vattenfall is now set to repeat this feat as it works towards one of the first second generation rollouts.
In an interview with Engerati, Annika Viklund, Senior Vice President of Sweden’s Vattenfall Distribution, describes the company’s experience with smart metering as a “journey” which has transformed not only the culture of the company but also its approach towards its customers.
“When we first started deploying smart metering, we looked upon it as a means to provide customers with a bill based on accurate metering and thought that was what they wanted,” Viklund says. “But today’s customer wants to be empowered and engaged with their energy.”
And for that customers want “transparency,” she states, saying in turn it builds the trust needed for that engagement in their consumption and use of energy.
At the same time Vattenfall has developed expertise in grid management use cases such as power quality monitoring and outage detection based on smart meter and other data.
The next step is to combine these in a “customer experience” which takes place without them being aware of it.
“We don’t want a customer to arrive at their summer cottage and discover the power is out there. We want to have detected the outage and have fixed it before they are even aware of it,” she says.
Next generation smart meters
Questioned on the background to the new rollout of smart metering, Viklund says it is critical to have in place a metering system that supports both the regulatory requirements as well as efficient internal processes.
Some of the meters have now been in place for more than 15 years and meter technology has advanced significantly in that time. In addition, there has been the emergence of prosumers with solar PV and storage batteries and electric vehicles.
“A second rollout will secure the right tools to continue to develop how metering supports the energy system transition,” she says.
Key learnings will be carried forward into this second rollout. One that Viklund mentions is the need for remote firmware upgrade capability, which is now expected to become a legislated requirement.
Another is the importance of continually extracting value from the meter data.
“In the first rollout we were focused on getting the system in place, but the data can be used in so many different ways and today we have a much better view on the functionalities that we need and want.”
In preparation, three pilots are underway with meters from different suppliers to evaluate functionalities and performance.
However, the timeline is still open although Viklund says the aim is to complete the rollout “well in advance” of the 2025 date set by the regulator.
Prosumer as customer
Looking ahead, Viklund says Vattenfall sees the future customer, the prosumer, as a “partner” – and that includes not only residential customers but also business customers, for whom engagement is equally important, albeit driven from a more economic perspective than their residential counterparts.
“We have found that the more services and tools we have offered to customers, the more engaged they have become,” she says, mentioning that these have been provided in no less than 13 different languages for the benefit not only of locals but also newcomers from elsewhere.
“We always try to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and we need to use all the different communication channels so we can communicate with them in the appropriate manner.”
She also notes growing awareness from customers on issues such as data security and use.
Viklund says that Vattenfall also anticipates supporting and piloting developments such as community projects and microgrids.
However, she adds that an issue that needs to be resolved is how the costs of the new products and services such as solar and the network costs will be shared fairly among all the participants.
In conclusion, Viklund says: “Our experience is that to be successful it is very important to be transparent and to engage and earn trust.
“For the services that are needed we need to get all the data we can and it’s got to be accurate. Smart meters are key and now I can’t imagine a distribution grid without them.”