Middle of 2015, Iskraemeco concluded a strategic partnership with four utilities from the Netherlands, Liander, Stedin, Enduris and Westland Infra. Within the smart metering project Iskraemeco will deploy up to 2, 5 million smart electricity meters during the next five years. Liander, Stedin, Enduris and Westland Infra manage a network consisting of more than 5 million electricity metering points. The modular smart meter, AM550 is an essential part of this smart metering transition.
By end of 2016, around 160.000 smart meters based on GSM/GPRS and CDMA communicaiton were already sent to the Netherlands. To follow up on the current status of the project we had a short chat with two members of the SMM audit team during the final audit at Iskraemeco premises. Mr Martin Werker, the Technical lead in this project is responsible for technical improvements, fulfilling set requirements and for solving challenges that arise during the project. Supplier quality assurance specialist, Mr Michael van den Bogaerd is responsible for the quality of products and processes.
What are the biggest challenges that Alliander is facing in such an extensive project?
Michael: “One of the biggest challenges is the timely supply of smart meters. Since this is a mass roll-out, the meters must meet utilities’ requirements and need to be in line with the set specifications. During the project, our main goal is to determine the cause of the issues that arise and how to manage them effectively. This is a challenge on its own since various departments are involved in the project – R&D, Production and Technology.”
Martin: “What is most important is the quality of the smart meters and that they meet the requirements. The smart meter has to have the requested technical functionalities. Its design must enable easy installation, the connection between the electricity and gas meter should run smoothly… The smart AM550 is, compared to previous generations, technologically more advanced and very easy to install. One of the major challenges in this project that we are facing is end-user engagement. We wanted to give our customers a user-friendly meter, so that each individual could easily check his/her metering data. AM550 is the first smart meter in the Netherlands where the data on the LCD are displayed in Dutch language. This enables consumers to obtain information about their energy consumption. At the beginning of the project we were faced with many challenges and we are proud that we successfully overcome them.”
Is it difficult to manage all the changes that arise during such a project? How do you tackle them?
Michael: “Sometimes it is really difficult, but we have established good communication with various employees in the company and we touch base every week. If necessary, also several times per week. It is very important to build a two-way relationship and I think we have established a successful partnership.”
Martin: “People are the most important element in such projects. We visited Iskraemeco several times, got to know the employees and their work. Instead of writing them E-mails we can call them any time. A good relationship is very important. When changes occur, we can check the operation very quickly and agree on the next steps. When there are differences, it is necessary to adjust the way and time frame in order to adopt changes. This enables the next process to follow on time. Delays are completely normal with such large-scale projects, especially considering the fact that technology is changing with a very fast pace.”
Michael: “The situation is similar when it comes to quality. We can follow the changes within the project, in production and other processes on almost a daily basis. We managed to establish a good and reliable two-way relationship. What is most important is that together we have created a mentality that leads us to the same goal. Everyone included in the project, want the same result that can only be achieved through cooperation. You meet people face-to-face and they know you are calling them for a reason. This involves understanding and openness and means that we have established a relationship based on trust and this is very important. If someone at Iskraemeco writes down the things that have to be done in a certain way, I believe them. If I would question every move, then something would definitely be wrong with our relationship. Our goal was to establish such a level of trust. Of course, at the beginning, there were some difficulties and it was challenging to start working together. Just as in any relationship and in every project. I can say that we have always managed to find a suitable solution.”
What impact does the project have for the energy supply system in the Netherlands?
Michael: “This project has created a database through which we can follow changes that occur in the network. If the smart meter is not working properly, we can smoothly correct any errors or make updates without involving the user. This project will also affect the awareness of end-users to reduce energy consumption and consequently reduce costs. The most important benefit of the project are energy savings.”
Martin: “The most important goal for installing smart meters on all premises is to raise awareness about energy consumption among end-users. Customers are able to read the meter (using dedicated (P1) devices) and can decide how they will reduce their consumption. Of course, one of the major challenges is proper communication with end-users. We must present them all the benefits of smart metering and provide them with relevant information.”
Benefits of smart metering for Alliander, one of the largest utilities in the Netherlands?
Martin: “If we focus on utilities, remote reading is a big advantage. With smart metering, there is no need for manual readings anymore. Remote reading enables us direct access to the meter, for example, when errors occur on the network. This enables easier maintenance of the meter.”
Michael: “Smart metering enables us to detect problems that occur on the field (e.g. fraud detection). Also, the installation of the meter is very simple and allows easier maintenance. With this project, we have successfully assured the required level of data security and the security of the entire system. With advanced anti-tampering features we were able to improve the safety of metering data.”
A few thoughts about the project for the end…
Michael: “At the beginning of the project we needed a bit more coordination, but together we created greater awareness about certain issues. Besides implemented upgrades regarding quality, we have together created a certain level of awareness, a mind-set. The project is a big step for the company as well as for the smart metering industry. A lot of effort was invested, but it paid off. At the end of the project, we want to stay in touch in order to maintain and even raise the level of quality in future projects. Maintaining relationships brings mutual benefits. I believe both sides learned a lot. We gained knowledge and experience that will help us in future projects. I can say, it was a project with ups and downs, but this is a normal and part of every project … and of everyday life.”
Martin: “This is a really good project. All things related to energy (energy transition) are changing rapidly. Consumers are becoming prosumers and the use of EV`s is growing rapidly. This will influence the load of the grid. The smart meter is becoming an important part of the entire system. My wish is, that Iskraemeco employees would be present on the field and witness the installation of meters. They would have insight into what could be done to improve this process. However, this can be part of future projects. In this project, we have achieved and learned a lot. This is a project for the long run. We cannot achieve and create everything in one step… we need to make several smaller steps that lead us to the finish line.”