Opinion: rough ride ahead for all involved in GB smart metering program


    Her Majesty’s Government smart metering programme for Great Britain is destined to give all those who are mandated to mount the horse a very rough ride. Each person or company expecting to ride this beast had better be prepared for it.

    Meter manufacturers, in their rush to get first mover advantage and fulfil contract obligations, will need to produce and prove designs is a great hurry. On the face of it, this should be easy; after all this is what meter manufacturers do for a living. Reality will bite once systems integration issues with HAN and WAN communications, protocol nuances, key distribution problems etc. begin to show up. With three agencies, albeit co-ordinated by the Data & Communications Company (DCC), all faced with many manufacturers nearly all at the same time, it will be a bumpy ride to success and scale. They can expect rocketing costs as they pay DCC for the privilege of having their meters certified as fit for use. Not to mention stop – start deliveries against contracts as they improve products on the fly.

    Meter installers too will find their life hard. For starters they install four items: an electric meter, a gas meter, a communications hub and an in-home display (IHD) in every home. Establishing radio communications between four devices in every customer’s home, by itself, is not trivial. Add to it the complexity of having to deal with three different agencies for WAN communications and commissioning and you have the recipe for a long install time and an expensive installation. The ride to a smooth install process will be a very bumpy one with a number of process changes, which will be needed to be effectively understood by thousands of technicians in vans, before it becomes efficient.

    Energy suppliers, responsible for providing smart meters to their customers, will have the hardest time of all. First of all they have the critical decision to make – are the IT processes delivered by DCC robust enough to really begin a mass scale rollout? If they get this judgment wrong, they will have some very upset customers, a situation every supplier will want to avoid like the plague. This writer predicts that the route to this decision is paved with problems. Each supplier, each meter manufacturer and each communications provider will appear different to the DCC (in theory they should not, but anyone who knows protocol standards will understand) and each will demand their bits get sorted out more or less at the same time. Nearly all suppliers begin with very limited skills in metering, so one can expect a lot of finger pointing and damages claims between suppliers, meter manufacturers and the three DCC constituent contractors. Of course, while all this is happening, the supplier has to keep their revenues from legacy meters flowing and will bear …

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