Will Great Britain be ready for smart metering?


By John Peters and Jason Brogden

Great Britain’s government decisions within its electricity and gas smart metering consultation response document will provide the platform to initiate the implementation programme needed for a full rollout of gas and electricity smart meters by 2020. This article captures some of the critical areas for development to ensure that the country is ready.

In December 2009, the government published its high level policies for implementation of a smart metering rollout programme. These were summarised in a recent article (www. smart-energy.com/node/16706).

Phase 1 of the smart metering implementation programme (a joint Department of Energy and Climate Change/Ofgem initiative, with the DECC chairing the Strategic Programme Board) has now been mobilised to set the next level of detail to these government policies in a “Prospectus” and to set the plan for the remaining phases of implementation of smart metering.

So what is fundamental to be resolved within the smart metering programme?

Well, there are a number of key areas though this article will only focus on four of them. Three of these areas were mentioned in the government’s implementation policy:

  • The central communications model being chosen as the market model
  • Network requirements identified as a key component that requires significant work, and
  • The debate around gas supply enablement and disablement.

The fourth area this article will touch on is the market’s preparedness for smart metering and its associated data. As we have previously written in Smart Energy International, the centralised communications model is unique internationally, so the country has to come up with the most efficient way to deliver the benefits of smart metering to the consumer.

Once the government concluded that the central communications model will be used to deliver smart metering, it was clear that there were still some significant unanswered questions. What will be the scope of centralised functions within the model and how can the currently complex industry processes be simplified for customers?

We have visually represented the functions required for smart metering in the figure.

Smart metering introduces a number of functions that need to be delivered and the question for Great Britain is how those functions are delivered – centrally or via distributed services?

The DECC, Ofgem and industry have to consider the impacts of these functions being centralised or distributed. It is the conclusion of this analysis that will set the scope of the centralised communications services.

Market roles

Market roles and functions required for smart metering

Distributed services will mean more interfaces and central process definition is required, which will impact interoperability. Engage Consulting has been at the forefront of interoperability definition in Great Britain to date and we believe that significant work needs to be done to facilitate interoperability through the definition of interfaces for data exchanges and protocols, and the establishment of service levels for data presentation. This should not be underestimated.

The government’s identification of network requirements as a key area for more work was welcomed by the industry. In addition, the progress made by the Energy Network Association (ENA) in developing detailed requirements for networks businesses was also noted. The implementation programme will see these being developed further.

However, the role of smart metering in facilitating a GB smart grid cannot be underestimated. Therefore, the implementation programme will need the network businesses to be at the forefront of defining network requirements, especially in relation to grid technology, meter specification and data exchanges within the central communications model. Network businesses will need to consider the impacts and links to its operational activities such as efficient network management, standards of service and use of system charging. We believe it is imperative that the network requirements are aligned with the rest of the industry (including suppliers), the government and the regulator.

It is extremely important to consider timelines for the delivery of smart metering and a smart grid in analysing what is required now and what can be implemented in the future. A smart grid vision for 2025 could be delivered by the next generation of metering and communications post-smart metering and should not necessarily constrain what is implemented now for smart metering. Firm network requirements for the period 2013-2025 should be considered for incremental cost/benefit by the DECC and Ofgem for implementation in the smart metering programme and assessed for impact on the networks’ Ofgem Price Controls.

The ability to remotely disable and enable supply is one of the key smart metering functionalities for consideration. For gas, this is done via the inclusion of a valve in the gas meter. The DECC originally set out its position that all gas smart meters would include this functionality. However, a strongly divided opinion expressed in the consultation responses has prompted it to conclude that further expert analysis is required to assess the options and their implications before making a final decision on a valve’s inclusion.

So what are the key issues? The DECC consultation responses highlighted arguments in a number of areas e.g. commercial opportunity, risks around technology and cost plus safety and maintenance. These are key areas for resolution within the programme’s next stages.

From a global perspective, the GB smart metering programme is unique; it is a truly dual fuel rollout so any issue specific to one commodity such as the gas valve one, will need resolution as a precondition to the rollout.

Furthermore, we believe that the dual fuel aspect of the GB rollout is likely to introduce challenges such as where the metering system’s communications are installed. Taking this point further, there is an argument for a mandated communications box separate from the gas and electricity meter. This would allow a first installation for either fuel to robustly install communications for the other and it would facilitate the potential to roll out smart ready meters in advance of communications being ready. It would also mitigate for the continuous advances in technology whereby the communications box can be upgraded to take advantage of new communication developments while the metrological component of the meter stays on the wall (e.g. increased bandwidth for smart grid).

Smart metering data and its associated management is an area of fundamental importance to ensuring market readiness for full implementation. Further definition of the central services’ scope was noted earlier in this article; this will be a prerequisite as it should establish what is in scope of the central model and what is out of scope.

There will be significant development programmes at each of the market participants needing to operate in the smart metering market and each of these needs to be completed, tested and trialled for market readiness before the market can operate.

Suppliers, network companies and metering service companies have two sets of requirements that they need to deliver: the industry requirements for compliance with central definition; and their own requirements for delivering their customer products, differentiating services and operational efficiency. For suppliers, in addition to system and process changes, there are meter procurement programmes and workforce training and mobilisation to complete.

This is not just about suppliers and network operators, but also industry infrastructure. The market bodies that deliver registration and settlement services need to know how their services might change, what they need to develop and then ensure that they are ready.

It is really important to say there is no option that is “no change” for anyone. Even if centralised services are minimised, distributed services need to be implemented with significant changes required to existing systems and processes.

A key part of market preparedness is the industry’s ability to deal with smart metering from a data management perspective. Smart metering will result in an exponential growth in data volumes in terms of retrieval, storage and processing – it will require investment in IT/IS systems and data solutions. The question is: will industry be ready?

Well, it has to be and we believe it will be, but when? Decisions taken by the DECC/Ofgem smart metering implementation programme are on the critical path now and industry needs increased certainty to progress with its own programmes.

This gives just a taster for the scale, complexity and dependencies in the multitude of development programmes required to implement smart metering in Great Britain.

We have started the process, but there is much to do …