An update on smart meter installations, August 2020
I am overwhelmed when I see the interest that Octopus’s smart tariffs generate. When we set out on this journey, we were told that customers didn’t care about electricity, and that they’d never respond to the price signals of variable tariffs.
Instead, there’s a huge appetite for Octopus’s smart tariffs - whenever I open Facebook or Twitter, I see people talking about how they work, how well they work, or the issues they have with them - especially with smart meters.
This is amazing - there’s an assumption within the energy industry that it’s incredibly hard to get people interested in smart meters - indeed, some of our rivals want to make them mandatory.
At the moment, when it comes to smart tariffs and smart meters, the most common complaints I see say something along the lines of:
“I saw on Facebook that you were installing smart meters again … then someone else said you weren’t .. then someone else said you were...”
So what’s going on?
Octopus were one of the last companies to stop installations during the COVID lockdown. Our customers are so keen for smart meters that we carried on for as long as safe and legal - but eventually we had to scale back to “emergencies only”.
As lockdown has begun to ease, we've started ramping up installations again, with new safety equipment and training. With the engineers having been off the road (many actually stayed on the road volunteering for food banks and with the NHS) we've had to take our time, with engineers receiving refresher training and additional checks on installs.
We’ve now got most engineers back in the swing, but with reduced installs per day (typically 2 per day rather than the pre-COVID four). This is driven by lower installation density, slower installs due to COVID precautions, cancelled installs when customers have symptoms etc.
In addition, we need to take engineers out of the field when they’ve installed in a home where subsequently a resident reports symptoms through track and trace, or where the engineer themselves or a member of their family has symptoms or potential exposure. Local lockdowns have meant mass cancellations, but also issues with deploying engineers who live in those areas.
All of this means that while we are installing again, there can be engineer shortages (sometimes at very short notice) and a lot of work in handling associate rebooking. This varies a lot by region and over time.
Meanwhile, over 1000 people a day register for a smart meter with us - so we have a six-figure number of customers waiting for one.
Essentially, COVID set us back 100,000-200,000 installations, and in addition we're operating at a lower capacity - so it'll be a while before we get to everyone.
Thankfully, we didn’t rest during the coronavirus lockdown - instead we took the opportunity to deploy a lot of software upgrades to improve the smoothness of service. Ensuring these upgrades were functioning effectively has also slowed down our ramp-up a little bit, as we wanted to make sure the service was working properly as we scaled (good news - it’s improved install reliability dramatically).
All this means that while we work hard to prioritise customers who’re waiting for an installation for smart tariffs, we’re not always able to find a slot immediately, or even to know when we will with enough certainty to offer one further out.
Of course, we try to be totally transparent about this - we frequently blog about the status of smart installs - and also are very clear that all our smart tariffs are still “beta” products - and that a reliance on smart meters means that there can be issues, delays, and very occasionally an inability to provide a smart tariff if we can’t get the meter installed and working (this is rare!)
For the majority of customers - smart tariffs are reliable, and we’re able to get a meter in reasonably quickly and reliably.
But for everyone else - this is all about pioneering a cheaper, greener grid for all of us. Octopus is proud to be investing in this and we know that so many customers are too.
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