Smaller suppliers may be especially vulnerable to meter installation quality hazards

Escalating pressures on smart meter installers could compromise the safety of consumers and installation engineers during the national rollout, Utility Week has learned.

Jon Turner, UK head of new sales for Siemens’ metering business told Utility Week that intense pressure on the labour market for smart meter installers could create quality issues for some meter operators (MOPs), who are responsible for the installation and maintenance of smart meters.

Turner said that a “principal challenge” for Siemens in fulfilling its smart meter contracts is related to “sourcing, training and retaining the appropriate level of engineering workforce”.

While Siemens has successfully attracted a strong work force, Turner said that competition for reliable installers is causing “changing salaries, packages and rewards that are pushing the price up, ultimately, of labour on install.”

He also observed “there is a risk” that a scramble to get newly trained engineers into the field could lead some MOPs to experience installation quality failures including gas leaks and reverse polarity situations.

Turner said that Siemens has taken action to ensure “rigour” in its own training and performance management procedures in order to “eliminate” such risks.

It has invested in “training, post-training, coaching and mentoring and then a performance management process” in which quality failures are addressed rapidly and “poor quality workmanship is dealt with appropriately.”

Turner raised a concern however, that some energy suppliers may not have visibility of quality issues in their installer base and that some MOPs who are “less reputationally concerned” or who are struggling to recruit the numbers of engineers they need to deliver contracts, may not crack down on quality issues with sufficient discipline.

“These small suppliers won’t have a lot of people and expertise within their organisation to review and check the quality of these [MOPS]. There is a lot of trust involved. They buy a managed service.” 

Turner urged supplier to be “very careful when selecting the right partners, who have should have safety at the heart of everything.”

Siemens’ metering services leader also expressed wider concern that independent suppliers are being put at a disadvantage during the smart meter rollout.

He suggested this is because smaller suppliers do not have enough volume in their customer base to command contracts with busy MOPs and because “There seems to be a pyramid of prioritisation that starts with the big six. Both in terms of installation engineers and the supply chain of metering.”

Turner said he was “surprised” that government had not done more already to address a “lack of support for new entrants into the energy retail market”.

To mitigate safety concerns and ease the pressure of spiralling labour costs, Turner pleaded for a “realistic” approach to the smart meter rollout timeline.

This is not the first time that safety issues linked to the smart meter rollout have been raised.

At Utility Week’s Congress event last year, Wales and West Utilities’ head of emergency and metering services said: “Obviously if you’ve got to go in and work on every meter installation in the country – or 80 per cent of them – in the next four years, there will be some consequences and we know that now.”

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