The “Meter Doctors” at Work
Training drives installation of up to 30,000 smart meters per week
ComEd meter reader Mike Eversley installs dozens of smart meters daily. He takes pride in the way smart meters empower customers to control their energy consumption and costs – and he also makes sure they know that their meter socket will be in better condition following the installation. A ComEd employee for nearly nine years, Mike joined the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) group two years ago and is excited about what the future holds for meter readers at ComEd.
Q: How many smart meters has ComEd installed?
A: We’ve installed about 50 percent of the 4 million meters that will be in homes and businesses by the end of 2018. We’re installing between 20,000 and 30,000 smart meters per week. It’s very robust. Any one of us could install dozens of meters in a day so it’s really important that we get the training needed to meet the installation schedule while maintaining a high priority on safety and customer experience, no matter how busy we are.
Q: What kind of training do you receive?
A: We receive classroom training and on-the-job training to remove the analog meters, inspect the meter socket, insert the smart meter and make sure the entire assembly is in optimal condition. The meter sockets connecting the meter to the customer’s home can be defective – and our training teaches us to fix that so we can install the new digital meters.
Q: What do you find most helpful about your training?
A: You can look at pictures of meters and their sockets in varying shapes and condition all day long, but until you actually get your hands on a defective meter socket and feel the socket fittings you won’t really know what’s wrong or how to fix it. In addition to that, when you’re out in the field, moving from house to house, installing lots of meters and looking at lots of fittings, it’s important to avoid the trap of tunnel vision. The training helps to do that by emphasizing the importance of always looking for certain indicators with respect to the fittings, corrosion, general condition of the wires, whether the dial is spinning and signs of meter tampering, among others.
Q: How old are some of the meter sockets you encounter and how do you deal with defective meter sockets?
A: We come across meter sockets that are more than 50 years old, and with meter sockets that old you have to be ready for anything. It could be a loose meter socket jaw or a broken meter block or something else. There isn’t anything I’ve encountered in the field that we haven’t covered in training, and that really instills confidence.
Q: What is the smart meter installation process?
A: First, we knock on the door to let customers know we’ve arrived to install their smart meter, answer any questions they may have and provide them with a door card containing additional information. Then we access the meter and inspect the fittings, looking for wear and tear, and inspect the bayonets or “blades” of the old meter. The meter has two sets of jaws. The top one receives the electrical power from the overhead line and the bottom set delivers the electricity to the home. If any problems are found during the inspection process we engage our standby electricians to make the repairs, such as to replace a broken meter block or jaw.
Q: How long before you’re installing meters on your own? What other subjects are you prepared to address?
A: New AMI installers work under the direct supervision of an experienced installer for up to two weeks; to receive certification, we’re required to perform safe, quality installations witnessed by the Front Line Supervisor. The experienced installers also coach the trainees how to answer the customers’ questions in the field ranging from, “What is a smart meter?” and “What are the Benefits?” to “Why am I getting a smart meter now?”
We need to be a meter reader, meter tech and customer service specialist all wrapped up into one. We view this as a Customer Service Project. Customers appreciate that and the service we provide. In fact, some customers have expressed concern that the new digital smart meters will make meter readers obsolete. They’re glad to hear me tell them that the smart grid program is creating new opportunities for us and a lot of other people, too.
Q: What other opportunities are available to meter readers?
A: Rather than releasing meter readers at the completion of the smart grid project, ComEd is offering them the opportunity to qualify for core line schools. These schools train the future lineman and utility workers. While many of the meter readers are currently performing manual meter reading on analog meters that have not yet been replaced, the other installers are being reassigned into different roles leveraging their field experience.