EU energy future
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As the European Energy industry continues to progress down the road of further deregulation, driven by policy decisions from the EU Commission, it opens some interesting opportunities to take a fresh look at the relationship between consumer/prosumer and utility.

As the European Energy industry continues to progress down the road of further deregulation, driven by policy decisions from the EU Commission, it opens some interesting opportunities to take a fresh look at the relationship between consumer/prosumer and utility. opportunity for the industry as a whole to take a look at what comes next.

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

Several utilities across Europe are now looking to leverage their smart metering population to monitor and manage network conditions and power quality at the distribution level. For example, Iberdrola in Spain are currently using DLMS/COSEM as part of a programme to deliver LV secondary substation monitoring, to enable line level measurement, low voltage oscillography, fraud and energy leakage detection and power quality measurement.

Iberdrola are not alone in their mission to leverage additional benefits from the AMI network installed base. More and more utilities are harnessing the power of remotely read locally sourced data over and above that required to facilitate the meter-to-bill use case.

Under the Clean Energy Package there is a call for a clearer definition of the interoperability requirements for data exchange in two very important consumer use cases: the availability of consumption data in electronic form and over the web for the consumer; and the ability of the consumer to transfer such data to home energy management systems.

The data requirements of such use case can easily be supported by standards such as DLMS/COSEM, but there is still some work to do on which media, method and frequency the data shall be transported over. Fortunately, this diversity of transport layer was predicted by the DLMS UA and as such the flexibility to operate exactly the same application layer over many and multiple media was a key concept from the conception of the standard, making it ideally positioned to support the EU Commission’s vision for a more competitive prosumer empowered future.

Since the original concept of smart metering communications technology first became mainstream, huge strides forward have been made in chipsets, radio reliability and public operator coverage. The falling of prices of chip sets and modules, coupled with the capabilities of these chips, enabled the industry to consider new ways of bolstering the robustness of networks.

As recently as 10 years ago some technology choices were out of the question for smart metering and certainly, it would not have even been considered practicable to put more than one backhaul technology in a meter.

Today, however, we see meters and other sensor solutions embracing the concept of multi-PHY communications solutions – creating combinations of RF, PLC and cellular communications within the same meter to facilitate better network robustness, reliability, availability and new business models. The need for network reliability and availability is a clear signpost of utility operators’ aspirations to use the network for functions and use cases over and above the traditional “meter to bill” type of operations.

Italy looks to be leading the way here – with their latest requirements for the next generation of meters including a request for communicating meters using several different physical layers.

Using open standards in Italy

DLMS/COSEM is used in Italy to communicate to gas and from electricity meters to in-home displays and hubs, with around 20 million residential gas meters being rolled out in an interoperable way, communicating over a 169MHz radio link running Wireless MBus link layer and a DLMS/COSEM application layer running on top. This solution is entirely based on open standards published by IEC and CEN.

Now at approximately halfway through the rollout, new technologies such as NB-IoT are looming, and utilities want to exploit other business models. Over and above the maintenance of better communications service levels, this change will also enable different company strategies.

A source close to the Italian CIG industry group responsible for writing the Italian specifications gives an insight into the Italian situation: “To enable the utilisation of new media, the Italian industry group responsible for the specifications were able to simply take the previous data model and use cases, developed for the 169 MHz PHY, and very quickly adapt to the new transport layers: in practice, just substituting the set-up and management objects needed for 169MHz radio PHY with the new ones for NB-IoT, in essence leaving all other objects in place. With the application layer and the vast majority of the object model remaining unchanged, there are obvious advantages in terms of IT integration, business continuity and customer information.”

The first generation of standards for gas meters is the Italian Companion Specification UNI/TS 11291-11-x (six parts: 2014), the NB-IoT enabled series (next to be published) is the UNI/TS 11291-12-x (four parts due to be published in 2020).

The Italian Standard CEI TS 13-82 to 13-85:2017 series is for electricity meter communications with in-home displays and hubs. The series has a similar structure to the gas meter standards: one part on use cases, one on the data model, and several others on the different PHYs. Currently, physical layers supported are PLC band C Cenelec and 169 MHz radio.

Another part on NB-IoT is in preparation. The IEC EN 62056-7-5:2016 is used as a reference for the local interface. Again a seamless integration of the different PHYs to support a range of use cases from basic custom awareness to advanced energy services (e.g. residential clustering for energy dispatch) either self-initiated by the end customers (basically the end customers buy a Customer Info Display and plug it in in their homes), or provided by third parties (advanced energy management gateways) on a pay for service basis.

Common table stakes development criteria for large scale rollouts:

  • Aligning to EU standards starting from CEN/CLC/ETSI/TR 50572.
  • Top-down standard development process as defined in the smart metering mandate (starting from use cases and relevant SLAs).
  • Flexible, efficient, application layer that can operate seamlessly on multiple physical layers.
  • Easy maintainability and evolution to new PHYs
  • Facilitating innovation and supporting the most possible market models
  • Open to evolution to other “fluids”

These new use cases from Italy have compelled the Italian utility to seek a better service level from the AMI network. In the next generation of equipment to be rolled out, more will be required of the humble legal metrology instrument unlocking valuable management information for the utility, enabling the management of critical national infrastructure as well as the provision of important consumption data for the consumer. This bold new step will mean that the transfer of application data will need to be absolutely consistent between all of the possible transport media to avoid any discrepancy between data locations.

Many data transfer standards are firmly and inextricably linked to their physical and transport layers, meaning that their operation in such an environment is limited by their chosen media. DLMS/ COSEM has been designed from the beginning as transport neutral and as such can maintain consistency across virtually any lower layers, making it a perfect choice for such applications.

Conclusions

As the Energy Transition continues at pace it’s clear that an increase in requirements and use cases will continue to drive technological evolution for the humble smart meter. But this evolution, however, brings its challenges – making sure that a technology that is installed in 2019 can still provide the necessary services in 2030, to avoid costly replacement programmes. It is clear that utilities need to secure their investments of today, so use of tried and tested methods via standards such as DLMS/COSEM can help to guarantee that they don’t get left with stranded assets.

DLMS/COSEM continues to evolve to meet these new demands in a fast-changing environment – and using a universal application layer operating over any lower layers will enhance flexibility and new devices with multi-transport capability.

The sheer number of global utilities adopting DLMS/COSEM is reflected in the proliferation of new projects making use of DLMS. As DLMS evolves it will also embrace a growing number of lower layers, whilst being agnostic as to the communications transport, including Wi-SUN, LoRaWAN, and NB-IoT. CoAP and similar technologies are important as computing moves to a more cloud-oriented approach, and the DLMS/ COSEM addition of CoAP will also help with the RESTful approach further abstracting the choice of data transports.

This all demonstrates that whatever your lower layer technology choice, DLMS provides a flexible, secure and reliable application layer that can be applied to any use case.

To find out more about how global utilities are future-proofing their smart meter rollouts with DLMS/COSEM, guaranteeing interoperability and security, visit us at EUW in Paris, on stand G130.