The rollout of smart meters is modernising the UK’s energy system. The new, smart, gas and electric units will replace traditional meters in homes and small businesses. These automatically take regular energy readings and share them wirelessly, through a secure network with the energy supplier. This advanced method of collecting data brings the UK closer to the end of manual meter readings and estimated bills. More importantly, this gives the electricity and gas consumer near real-time information to help view consumption and allow more management of energy usage and, therefore, help reduce bills.

By the end of June 2023, over 33 million Smart meters were installed in homes and small businesses in the UK, equating to approximately 57% of all gas and electricity meters being of the smart or advanced type. Of the 33 million installations, the highest proportion is for electricity meters at approximately 19 million, with a split of roughly 18 million for domestic and 1 million for business installations.

The sheer size of the Smart meter program and, in particular, the proportionally high number of electrical installations has required the recruitment of a large number of installers to undertake the replacement program. As with any electrical work, this must be conducted by qualified persons, in this case, specifically trained in line with the current Smart meter installation requirements. The use of electrical test equipment forms an essential part of the installation process. The equipment used must be in line with the safety category and voltage rating of the installation and, crucially, be capable of being used to implement electrical industry standard safe isolation procedures.

To ensure safety in the workplace, in this case, the meter installation, safe isolation is critical, proving without doubt that there are no live voltages present prior to the installation. The use of a voltage indicator is an essential part of this process. There are many types of test equipment which can indicate a voltage is present either by a contact or non-contact method; however, a contact voltage indicator which does not use batteries should always be used as this will alleviate any potential false reading caused by dead or malfunctioning batteries.

The safe isolation procedure starts with checking the voltage indicator against a known source, such as a proving unit, and then testing the circuit with the indicator to check it is not live. Lastly, the voltage indicator must be once again tested against the known source to prove the tester has not failed during testing. A known voltage source could be used to check the indicator, but a dedicated proving unit is more convenient, faster and safer.  A proving unit will ensure that all LEDs on all indicator ranges are working, again safeguarding against incorrect readings due to a faulty LED. For supply-side testing, a suitable CAT IV rated voltage indicator should be used with a compatible proving unit.

Non-contact voltage detectors do have a place in the Smart meter installation process. Whilst these units cannot reliably be used to prove dead, they can be used to indicate live cables, and most will have an illuminating probe tip to show the presence of a voltage. Some units with desensitised detection can also distinguish between phase and neutral conductors. When using these devices, all safety guidance should be observed.

To ensure the Smart meter installer has everything necessary for electrical testing, specific electrical installation kits are available on the market. Martindale, for example, offer a complete solution to enable safe working practices during the installation of Smart meters. The Smart Meter Kits (SMKIT) contain all the test tools needed to ensure safe isolation procedures can be implemented during the installation process. These comprehensive kits include a non-contact and contact voltage indicator. A Drummond test lamp with a matched proving unit for CAT IV supply-side safe isolation testing is included. For additional checking of 13A outlet wiring, a Buzz-It check plug is also included in the SMKIT10 and SMKIT20.

Ideal for CAT IV supply side testing, the Drummond test lamps use high-intensity LEDs to display discrete voltage levels over a 360-degree viewing angle, making them ideal when cables are difficult to reach or when working on outdoor wall-mounted electric meter boxes in bright sunlight. These units are a very reliable solution for identifying hazardous voltages. The Drummond MTL20 Test Lamp included in SMKIT20 has the benefit of a dual impedance function to help alleviate false indications due to induced phantom voltages in a cable. The unit incorporates two test buttons, one on the body and one on the probe. The simultaneous depression of both buttons enables the unit to draw a high current, allowing the user to easily differentiate between a phantom voltage and a hazardous persistent voltage. In addition, the need to use both hands to depress the buttons on the tester ensures the operator cannot inadvertently touch any potentially live parts energised during the test.

The Smart meter installation program will continue for several years, so using safe, long lasting, reliable equipment and adhering to safety procedures is paramount. Martindale offer the complete solution to enable safe working practices during the installation of Smart Meters. The SMKITs contain all the test tools needed to ensure safe isolation procedures can be implemented during the process.

 

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