New open communications standard for smart meters


Alistair Morfey,
Technology Director,
Cambridge, U.K. — (METERING.COM) — September 30, 2009 – A new open standard for smart metering systems, the Universal Metering Interface (UMI™), has been launched by technology and innovation company Cambridge Consultants.

The UMI will enable manufacturer to start rolling out and installing smart-ready meters ahead of decisions about how they should communicate with the grid, appliances, or other devices, says Cambridge Consultants in a statement.

Because the end-goal is so important, the company adds, the UMI is being offered as an open standard for the metering industry to help speed up the rollout of smart meters in Europe. To meet the European Commission’s 2020 targets an aggressive schedule for rolling out smart metering technology is required, but its deployment is currently delayed by an ongoing debate about which communication standards should be adopted.

So far the new standard has been adopted by Elster, one of the largest meter vendors in the region.

“Communications standards are vital to enable smart energy appliances to talk to the meter and the grid, but the RF interfaces which the Home Area Network (HAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN) will use have not yet been selected,” explains Alistair Morfey, technology director at Cambridge Consultants and leader of the company’s smart metering business.

“The U.K. government committed in May 2009 to install smart meters in all 26 million homes by 2020, but even if rollout begins in 2013, which is now the earliest realistic date, there will need to be at least 70,000 smart meter installations per week. Scale this up across Europe and it becomes clear that the debate about communications isn’t going to be resolved in time, and that a solution to get things moving is needed. That’s exactly what UMI offers.”

The UMI is an ultra low power, low cost and highly defined board-to-board wired interface that will allow standard HAN (e.g. ZigBee or Wireless M-Bus) or WAN (e.g. GPRS) communications modules to be added to any metering product, either during production or in the field, when the communications standard has been agreed.

Because the UMI communications module is entirely separate from the MID-approved (Measuring Instruments Directive) metrology components of the meter, there is no need to re-approve the meter when communications interfaces are changed. This drastically extends both the life of the meter and its marketability to different regions, and makes it future-proof for emerging standards and retrofits.

The communications uncertainty is also delaying product releases for energy displays, home gateways, and smart appliances. By deploying the UMI, manufacturers of these intelligent energy saving devices can now start to roll them out to homes and energy suppliers around the world, while they are still waiting for communications interfaces to be agreed, Cambridge Consultants notes.

The UMI will be showcased next week at Metering, Billing/CRM Europe in Barcelona, Spain.