Service standards for metering and billing


By Andreea Gulacsi and Marc Patuzzo

This article reviews the findings for billing and metering in the CEN Horizontal European Service Standardisation Strategy (CHESSS), an 18 month European Commission and EFTA funded project undertaken to determine the feasibility of generic service standardisation in Europe.

Billing customers for services provided is an inevitable and significant step in the lifecycle of almost any service. Metering of use, in some form or other is equally inevitable. In the traditional world of usage metering, the connection between metering and subsequent billing processes has been perceived as almost cause and effect. In the world of the intelligent (smart) meter however, although this core relationship remains, the possible output from the smart meter could potentially relate to much more than just demands for payment for services used. In recognition of this, these two aspects of service provision are reviewed independently in this report, although the clear relationship between them is acknowledged.

Billing processes currently in use can cause considerable dissatisfaction for customers and this can result in significant levels of complaint to service providers. This is clearly disruptive to the service provider customer relationship, highly unsatisfactory for customers and expensive for service providers.

The implementation of the Payment Services Directive (PSD) in 2009 will address many of the payment related concerns but the questions and uncertainty relating to the clarity and readability of bills will remain. Some of those residual concerns could be resolved by introducing a uniform billing format, ensuring that the layout of essential content (not the detail) would be essentially the same, on the page (or screen), observing a common set of basic presentational rules (e.g. minimum font size, percentage of white space). This would contribute to engendering familiarity in customers that, in turn, could be expected to increase confidence. Although regulation related to billing does exist in member states, this is not thought to present a barrier to the development of a uniform billing format.

In March 2009, the European Commission issued a new standardisation mandate to the three European Standardisation Organisations (ESO) in the field of measuring instruments. The general objective of this mandate is to create European standards that will enable interoperability of utility meters (water, gas, electricity, heat). The newly created standards will improve the means by which the costumers’ awareness of actual consumption can be raised and, therefore, will enable customers to optimise their energy use and to reduce their carbon emissions.

The mandated work is primarily based on two directives: Directive 2006/32/EC on energy end-use efficiency and energy services concerns achieving an overall indicative energy savings target by each member state. Article 13 mentions the need for providing final consumers with competitively priced individual utility meters that accurately reflect the final consumer’s actual energy consumption and that provide information on actual time of use. Also known as the MID, Directive 2004/22/EC on measuring instruments deals with full harmonisation of utility meters. It allows all functionalities that do not interfere with the metrological characteristics of the instruments.

In terms of standards to be delivered, the mandate requests the creation of a European standard comprising a software and hardware open architecture for utility meters that supports secure bidirectional communication and allows advanced information, management, and control systems for consumers and service suppliers. It also requires the three ESOs to develop European standards containing harmonised solutions for additional functionalities within an interoperable framework using, where needed, the future open architecture for communication protocols.

In preparation of the mandate, the three ESOs organised in January 2009 a meeting to consider views and needs related to standardisation in the field of smart metering and specifically the execution of the mandate. Representatives from the European Commission and from the industry sector were also present at the meeting. All the participants agreed on setting up a coordination group, to which major stakeholders and relevant technical bodies would be invited to participate. The tasks allocated to this joint advisory body are of two kinds: (i) provide a work programme for the execution of the second phase of the mandate as well as comments and recommendations related to smart meter standardisation covered by the mandate; (ii) provide a suitable platform for discussion of issues linked to smart meter standardisation with the European Commission and EFTA.

Following the first meeting of the Smart Meters Co-ordination Group (SM CG), that took place in April 2009, the members decided to establish two working groups, made of representatives from standardisation technical bodies and other relevant stakeholders, in order to address the mandated work and to prepare a work programme for the execution of the second phase of the mandate. The Ad Hoc Group “Communication” is in charge of the first task requested by the mandate, i.e. the standard for an open architecture, whereas the Ad Hoc Group “Additional functionalities” deals with the execution of the second mandated task. As part of their mission, both working groups have to map the existing standards and to identify possible gaps.

Presented at the second Smart Meter Coordination Group meeting in September 2009, the results of their respective work will determine the content of the work programme for the execution of the second phase of the mandate.