Interoperability supporting clean energy strategies


In 2015, the European Union (EU) announced its Energy Union Strategy with the goal of guaranteeing accessible, affordable, secure, competitive and sustainable energy for all Europeans.

Since the launch, the EU has published several packages to monitor the implementation of this key priority. Most recently, the EU published the Clean Energy Package consisting of eight legislative acts aimed at facilitating the transition away from fossil fuels toward cleaner energy and delivering on the EU’s Paris Agreement commitments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 5-2019. Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

To support this strategy, it is essential for the design of smart metering systems to evolve from early-generation solutions toward forward-looking reference architecture.

Key requirements for smart metering systems

In order to meet the requirements of the Energy Union Strategy, forward-looking smart metering systems must have a key set of capabilities, including the ability to integrate distributed energy resources, engage consumers, feature robust security and enable interoperability.

More specifically:

Local, decentralised generation and storage should be integral parts of the system: Small-scale distributed energy resources (DERs), like solar panels and battery systems, for local power generation and storage are connected to the larger power grid and require orchestration and control to effectively complement the grid.

• Consumers needs should be at the heart of the system:

Consumers own their localised energy systems, including all associated metering data, which needs to be available in real-time. They need to have the ability to manage their data as well as control third-party access to their data and their small-scale systems. This requirement applies to all utility commodities – electricity, gas, water and heating.

• Market participants need open, unhindered but consumer-controlled access:

Under control of the consumer, market participants need to have fair, unimpeded and direct access to consumers. The principle is to create a multidirectional dynamic, decentralised and open energy system that will encourage innovation and competition.

• Security by design is essential:

All components of, as well as the complete value system, need to be secured to ensure necessary levels of privacy.

• Interoperability and multi-sourcing are critical to ensuring future capabilities:

With growing system complexity, increased functionality and inevitable system evolution, the challenge to ensure that a chosen smart metering system does not result in long-term vendor lock-in increases exponentially.

Hence a construct of “design-for-interoperability” and future functionality needs to be central to any procurement decision.

Smart metering principles

Taking these required capabilities into consideration, a few underlying principles are critical to supporting a smart metering system. These include the need for open standards and companion specifications and the ability to support multiple communications technologies.

1. Based on open and evolving standards

Any system should be based on a globally recognised, industry-relevant and future-looking application-layer standard. Companies like Itron have adopted the industry de-facto standard DLMS/ COSEM1 (based on the IEC 62056 suite of standards) for utility-centric devices and actively contributing to keep the standards relevant and agile as new applications and technologies emerge.

2. Overlaid with companion specifications

Experience has taught us that a superset of application-layer standards does not guarantee interoperability. Overlaying these standards should be an outcomes-driven companion specification to clearly select how the “language” of a specification suite is converted into a functional “vocabulary” – ensuring devices can communicate in the same way.

In this respect, IDIS can be used as a descriptive model to ensure functional interoperability. IDIS has also defined a clear process for conformance and interoperability testing that is mandatory to guarantee interoperability.

3. Supports multiple communications technologies

Owing to its fast-evolving nature, any smart metering system needs to be designed independent from lower-level communications technology. Communications technology will have to be capable of supporting the desired companion specification and associated outcomes, but solutions will, in practice, be realised through multiple technologies, deployed in tandem.

Itron is utilising combined mesh radio frequency, cellular and power line communication technologies to support deployments through a common use case, performance and security envelope.

Smart metering system reference architecture

The EU’s baseline reference architecture is based on, and has evolved from, successful European mass rollouts of tens of millions of smart devices of the UK, France and the Netherlands.

Terminology is adapted from the original Netbeheer DSMR model that has recently been adopted into the specification for other utilities, notably in Belgium. This architecture is consistent with the best practice smart metering system principles and fulfils all of the market requirements central to the European Union Strategy:

• Open standards-based: Fully based on European and global norms, enabling multi-sourcing.

• Supported by a functional use-case companion specification that could be extended to accommodate specificities and future evolutions.

• Backstopped by a proven certification and interoperability process that could be adapted to specific needs.

• Independent of underlying communications transport technologies.

• Places the consumer at the heart of the system, in full control of what level of access should be provided to industry stakeholders and service providers.

• Flexible architecture to interface with local generation, storage and control solutions to enable autonomous and decentralised control by consumers.

• Affords market participants direct, unimpeded and unbrokered access to consumers, their data and their energy systems to propose innovative, value-adding services.

• Allows regulated actors, like Distribution System Operators, service-level governed access to their assets for managing their grid and operations.

• Is secured through best practice privacy and cybersecurity technologies.

The future of energy

From decentralised and privacy-friendly billing to community transactions and other financial solutions, a smart metering system brings a whole host of benefits. For example, the growing importance of placing the consumer at the heart of the system could be extended to billing. The consumer metering system calculates and transmits their billing data without divulging the underlying, granular confidential data.

Contained and locally controlled metering systems also introduces the ability to privacy-friendly, local-community trading and settlement.

Again, the reference architectural construct affords the flexibility to be extended to trading, with or without third party service provider intervention.

As another example, albeit not without controversy, consumer controlled microsystems could enable the securitisation of cash-flows and facilitate innovative, engineered financing structures through dedicated special-purpose vehicles. Flexible and open technical architectures would reduce financing risk and hence facilitate no-money-down propositions to consumers.


The utility industry is in the midst of a great transformation as technologies advance and the EU looks to ensure affordable, secure, competitive and sustainable energy for all Europeans.

Historically, if similar industry disruption has taught us one clear lesson, it is that architecture is not a technical topic but a business decision that needs careful consideration of the long-term vision and strategy. Should this lesson be ignored, the solutions of today will undoubtedly turn into the problems of tomorrow – problems that will culminate in limited flexibility, agility and ultimately strategic failure.

The technology and standardisation frameworks we have today are based on deterministic leaning and proven experience. Applying that framework in the context of forward-looking utility demands, inclusive of the EU’s Clean Energy strategy, provides a sound roadmap for the future and addresses today’s and tomorrow’s needs.


Pieter Coetzee has 25 years of experience in the utility and metering industry, starting his career in South Africa and relocating to Europe 11 years ago. He is currently active in market and business development across both EMEA and APAC for Itron and heads up the Itron Networked Solution market strategy in EMEA.


Itron enables utilities and cities to safely, securely and reliably deliver critical infrastructure services to communities in more than 100 countries. Our portfolio of smart networks, software, services, meters and sensors helps our customers better manage electricity, gas and water resources for the people they serve.