Utilita Energy launches smart metering apprenticeship

Utilita Energy and Cheshire College South and West have created a smart metering apprenticeship designed to overcome many of the communications issues engineers face during a smart meter installation, with the capacity to deliver 1,000 new engineers annually.

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 3.4m – smart meters being left unable to communicate with the energy supplier.

The new apprenticeship is the first of its kind in that it is being co-delivered by the private and public sector, using the existing smart metering framework designed by a range of energy suppliers. It 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, said:

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. 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.

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

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.

The three main reasons for a new smart meter not working:

  1. Commissioning issues. These are challenges faced by the engineer on the day, which take time and experience to overcome.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.