Posted on Friday, May 15, 2020 by Ole Tarp

Business beyond usual enables smart meter roll-outs during COVID-19

A status report from Danish Utilities – part 2
While the COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in a new normal for all of us, many water utilities insist on thinking forward and moving ahead with their projects to do their part to ensure that we all make it to the other side of this crisis in the best way possible. In our new series, we share the stories behind some of the different projects that are continuing – this time Danish utility, Energi Viborg Vand A/S.

When the lockdown of Denmark was instructed on March 12th, Energi Viborg Vand had just had the very first meeting with us at Kamstrup about their highly anticipated roll-out of appr. 16,000 remotely read smart water meters. That would end up being our only physical meeting so far. 

Weekly virtual meetings. 
It is Energi Viborg Vand’s ambition to become as digital as possible, and their new water meters and radio network are an important step to reaching that goal. Combined with them also wanting to protect the project from potential production bottle necks on the other side of COVID-19, they were therefore adamant about moving ahead as planned – provided that it could be done in accordance with the guidelines laid out by the health authorities, says Director of Energi Viborg Vand, Flemming Hermann. 


“Even before the lockdown, we had talked about the potential impact of the virus on our roll-out because of the potential risks to Kamstrup’s supply chain as some components are produced outside Denmark. This is a big investment for us and we had already informed our customers that we are planning to install new meters in 2020. Our initial fear was therefore that we would have to announce an indefinite postponement, which luckily hasn’t been necessary. Once we had confirmation from Kamstrup, our next concern was our customers – what would they think about a rollout right now? Would they feel comfortable letting us in? And would we feel comfortable sending in the installers?”

Our next concern was our customers - what would they think about a rollout right now? Would they feel comfortable letting us in? And would we feel comfortable sending in the installers?

..Flemming Hermann, Energi Viborg Vand

Just a few days after the lockdown announcement, we had our first virtual meeting. And throughout the lockdown period, project managers from both Energi Viborg Vand and Kamstrup have had weekly virtual meetings to follow the development of the COVID-19 situation as well as the progress of the project itself. We have spent a long time discussing how to handle the roll-out, access the installations and what measures had to be taken.

Our close communication and the proactive approach and from both sides of the screen ensured all of us that proceeding was the right decision. 
Safety above all else
The first part of the roll-out is a small pilot. The main concern, of course, was how to move ahead with the installation while ensuring compliance with any and all restrictions from the official authorities to prevent contamination and spread of the virus.


The pilot roll-out was initially scheduled for right after Easter but has since been pushed to start May 4th. to ensure sufficient time to implement the necessary measures. Therefore, Energi Viborg Vand and Kamstrup sent out booking letters to all affected customers. In addition to the usual information about which date and time they could expect to receive a visit from an installer, these letters also contained specific information about the precautions that should and would be taken in connection with meter replacement to ensure the safety of the customer as well as the installer. 

This information was based on the official guidelines from the National Board of Health regarding use of disinfection, keeping distance etc. as well as input from the installer company. For example, the end user is required to clean the old meter and the area around it, and the installer must wear gloves and a face mask. 

“The key thing for us has been that we, together, ensure the safety and peace of mind of our customers as well as the installers coming into their homes. That includes a detailed description of  the requirements for the installers in terms of wearing protective gear, using hand sanitizer and so on. It makes everything a bit more difficult, but right now that is more important for us than timeframes and finances,” explains Flemming Hermann.  


Planning is key
Throughout the project so far, Energi Viborg Vand, Kamstrup and the installer company have been in very close dialogue, and as a result, things are proceeding as planned. The radio planning was already in order before the lockdown, and the first data collection units had been installed so that we would be ready to roll-out after Easter. The places we had to enter required no or very little human contact. In all but a few cases, our subcontractor could lock themselves in and out. 

If all goes according to plan, the pilot meters will be installed by mid-May. After that, we will be doing a technical clean-up followed by a so-called stability period, before the pilot is concluded. But already in the last week of May, the next batch of meters are set to be installed. This will allow us to see how the first three weeks go in terms of customer contact, so we can make any necessary adaptation to the booking letter and our approach. Only a few vulnerable citizens have contacted Energi Viborg Vand with concerns about having a visit from an installer at this time, and we will of course be adapting our rollout accordingly. 

We will also be doing a comprehensive evaluation after the pilot is completed before proceeding with the rest of the meters. “Our goal is to be able to invoice our customers via remotely read meters by the end of 2021. So whether meter installation in completed in April, May or even later next year, is not crucial to us,” says Flemming Hermann.

“We’re all in this together”
I see three main reasons why the Energi Viborg Vand project has been able to continue and stay on track – and luckily I share this view with Flemming and the rest of his team. The first one has been – and remains – the dedication shown by everyone involved. “Our experience has been that everyone from both Kamstrup and our side have shown a great deal of understanding and willingness to find the best possible way forward at every single step” says Flemming. 

Secondly, it has been a huge advantage that our close relation had already been established during a long period of negotiations before we moved all our meetings to a digital universe. “The mutual confidence and trust between us was already there. That said, I’m surprised at how well video meetings work for us and I’m convinced that our steep learning curve will benefit us going forward – we’ll be able to use just 1 hour for the meeting rather than a typical 3-4 hours that include transport”.

Finally, Energi Viborg Vand has insisted on doing everything in their power to protect our mutual chain and taken great responsibility for the role they play. Especially now, that makes a world of difference. “Ever since the early days of COVID-19, we have considered it our obligation to do all we can to help keep the wheels turning for all of our contractors, Kamstrup included. We’re all in this together.” 


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