Utilita Energy Launches New-Style Smart Metering Apprenticeship

Utilita Energy and Cheshire College South and West have today officially launched a new-style smart metering apprenticeship designed to overcome many of the communications issues engineers face during a smart meter installation. The apprenticeship has the capacity to deliver 1,000 new engineers annually to plug the green skills gap.

The new apprenticeship has been purpose-built by the energy supplier and college to combat the commissioning issues that engineers face on the day of install, which is one of the three main reasons for one in 10 – or 3.4 million – smart meters being left in ‘dumb mode’ – this is where it is unable to communicate with the energy supplier.

The new belt and braces apprenticeship is the first of its kind in that it is being co-delivered by the private and public sector in unison. It uses the existing smart metering framework designed by a range of energy suppliers, but has been adapted to give engineers access to Utilita’s smart meter installation simulation rigs at its national training centres where they can learn to overcome the variety of complex commissioning challenges.

George Walters, Utilita Energy’s Chief Home Services Officer comments on updating the apprenticeship:

“We installed the UK’s first smart meter back in 2003, and have successfully smart-installed 92% of the households we supply, compared to a 62% average across industry. In addition, we have a 95% on-day commissioning success rate at point of install, whereas the industry average is around 11% lower.

“Commissioning troubleshooting only comes with experience, and we are fast-tracking that experience by making sure engineers have access to the learning earlier on.”

The 14-month apprenticeship pilot will launch with eight apprentice engineers at Cheshire College South and West, and will be the first smart metering apprenticeship delivered by a college and energy retailer in unison – the norm is for a college to deliver all learning before apprentices go into a real-world scenario alongside an engineer.

Alongside classroom-based learning at the 11,000-student college, the apprentices will learn within the on-site ‘Sustainable House’.

The £680,000 facility allows students to work in a real life setting without being in a real home. The Sustainable House, sponsored by Utilita, has all the latest sustainable technologies, such as ground source heat pumps and photovoltaic solar panels.

Apprentice engineers will spend 17 weeks of the 24-week course between being in the field shadowing a Utilita smart engineer and Utilita’s smart commissioning rigs at its industry-leading Warrington Training Academy. The Academy has the capacity to upskill thousands of engineers – from any organisation – each year to plug the green skills gap.

Karen Roberts, the Assistant Principal for Apprenticeships and Employer Engagement at Cheshire College, comments:

“The collaboration with Utilita is another meaningful step forward for our college’s sustainable ambitions. We are very excited to continue our longstanding partnership with Utilita, and to support the demand for the green skills in the UK.

“As a college, we work closely with employers to drive economic growth through the development of future e-focused skills. Apprentices who achieve this Level 2 Smart Metering Diploma will play a significant role in helping the UK reach Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“Apprentices will greatly benefit from Utilita’s expert training alongside our state-of-the-art resources and facilities at the college.”

Dan Greenwood, Utilita’s Training and Development Manager at Utilita, comments:

“Our ever-expanding Warrington Training Academy has state of the art facilities that can deliver a whole new class of green skilled engineers. The hands-on experience available via our meter commissioning rigs is not available anywhere else in the UK.”

The ‘dumb’ smart meter landscape

Today in the UK there are 3.4 million dumb – or non-communicating – smart meters in domestic properties. The definition of a dumb meter is where the smart meter technology does not send data to the supplier, hence the customer being required to provide manual meeting readings or receiving an estimated bill.

There are three main reasons for a new smart meter not working:

Commissioning issues. These are challenges faced by the engineer on the day, which take time and experience to overcome.

Smart network coverage. The Data Communications Company (DCC) is the one and only provider of the nation’s smart meter network. It is yet to provide full UK coverage. Where there is no coverage, a smart meter will not become communicative.

Mobile signal strength. Where there is DCC network coverage but poor mobile network, the signal strength may not be adequate for the meter to communicate.