The logistical challenge of the national Smart Meter roll out

An interesting statistic from KPMG at Utility Week Live is that the number of Smart Meter installers will reach a peak of 7,600. What's not clear is when that peak will be reached nor how many currently active installers there are which would put some perspective on how many new installers are needed to achieve that peak.

I'm going to try to get a rough idea on that figure using the statistics available from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. According to the latest published Smart Meter Statistics a total of 1,027,680 new SMETS1 Smart Meters were installed in Q1 2017, bringing the total installed so far to 6,007,180.

Next some assumptions on what constitutes an installer's working week and the duration of the meter installation job. For the former let's assume that each meter installer is flat out on an eight hour day for six days a week, Monday to Saturday making 75 working days in Q1. For the latter assume there's roughly 30 minutes between installation jobs which includes travel, setting up and packing away equipment. Finally, that the installation itself is somewhere around the 1 and 2 hours suggested by British Gas, Utilita and Ovo.

Having said that I know from having attended some Testing Design and Execution Group meetings that some meter installations are taking as long as four hours to complete due to issues with the meters themselves - frustrating for both the installer and the homeowner.

Punching all those assumptions into the magical statistics computer makes it draw this pretty picture;

Chart of smart meter installers and meter installation time.

No surprises that as the time between meter installations increases, so must the number of active installers increase in order for it to have been possible to achieve 1,027,680 Smart Meter installations in Q1. From the looks of things the average of about 2.5 hrs to 3 hrs for each installation comprised of travel, start up prep, install and tear down prep is about what we should expect. So if that's reasonably accurate there's something like 5,000 active installers at present. Any more than this would seem to put the average installation time nearer the four hour mark which would be terribly intrusive on a household.

So what does this mean for the UK's Smart Meter roll out?

Well to begin with there must be a lot of people being trained as meter installers right now for that ramp up to peak to be effective. That alone begs the question as to what all those installers are going to do after 2020 but my guess, as I'm about to explain, is that they'll still be installing meters.

Secondly is that the 7,600 peak figure cited by KPMG is as much as the government's admission that with just a shade over 41 million traditional / dumb meters waiting to be replaced (as of end of Q1 2017) the odds are very much against the UK government's ambition to have a smart meter in every home by end of 2020.

Why? The numbers just don't stack up even if that peak were sustained from beginning of Q2 right up until the end of 2020, which I strongly doubt is so. This would result in an average of 34,928 traditional meters replaced by smart meters on every single one of the 1174 working days available in that time, again assuming that peak were sustained over a six day working week. That in turn means that each and every one of those installers must average 5 successful meter installations on each of those days where, as we've seen already, they're currently achieving somewhere around 3 per day.