Italian Utility Company Enel Maximizes Smart Grid Installation with Rugged Computers

Enel is one of the largest European utility providers, with a home base in Italy and subsidiaries in Spain, Russia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. In fact, Enel was the first utility company to roll out a large-scale smart metering project in Europe. The company’s rollout started at the beginning of the decade. By 2005, utility workers were mainly using PDAs as supporting mobile devices to manage the field installations. This year, each of the company’s 36 million customers will be outfitted with a smart meter.

Enel’s  installation highlights the current push from governments to move towards a smart metering system for residences and businesses. Smart meter adoption will help users measure their power consumption and enable utilities to provide more accurate billing and analysis.

Analyst firm IDC recently referenced Enel’s deployment in its report, “The Role of Rugged PCs in Successful Rollouts of Smart Metering Systems,”, which highlights the need for utility workers to be equipped with a rugged mobile computing solution, that features a broadband connection, and can survive hostile field environments including  inclement weather, extreme temperatures and vibrating vehicle cabs. In the report, IDC uses Enel and its crews to show that low mobile computer failure rates are the only way to limit the amount of downtime for those workers responsible for the field installation and maintenance of smart meters.

As mentioned above, Enel initially used handheld PDAs, but overtime realized that such a device did not fully match the needs of its crews. Following a few proof-of-concept trails with various tablet PC devices, the utility decided to deploy Panasonic Toughbook 19s, more than 5,300 of them, all fitted with a mobile broadband connection. The fully-rugged convertible tablet PC gave Enel’s smart meter technicians the performance, reliability and connectivity needed to handle the multiple applications they ran in the field, including meter exchange, cartography, GPS and database access as well as basic programs like email and web browsing. Four years later, these rugged computers have maximized the operational efficiency of Enel’s mobile workforce.

As countries around the world continue to upgrade current systems to include smart grids, the need to include rugged mobile computers as part of that infrastructure upgrade will only increase.

The U.K.-based utility Centrica had a similar experience with its Smart Grid rollout.