SmartReach: Energy Sector Needs To Unite Around Smart Meters


David Green from SmartReach says we need one Communications Service Provider for the smart meter roll-out, not three

The government estimates that the rollout of smart meters will deliver around £7 billion in net benefits to consumers and the energy industry. The delay to the start of the mass rollout, announced in May, has allowed more time to get consumers engaged as well as to finalise technical standards and integrate, and test, communications, data and metering technologies.

David Green, business development director at SmartReach, believes that a collaborative approach, combined with removing unnecessary technology complexity will reduce integration risk and ease pressure on timelines for the delivery of DCC services.

Collaboration is vital to smart success

Smart metering can only succeed if the energy industry, technology suppliers, consumer bodies and other key stakeholders work closely together.

Smart Meter LandscapeThe Central Delivery Body, which is coming into being right now, will lead on consumer engagement and – while the scope is still debated – it is likely to play a wider co-ordinating role. Smart metering data will be centrally delivered to the industry by the Data and Communications Company (DCC), who will engage Data Service Provider (DSP) and between one and three Communications Service Providers (CSPs); all will have important roles to play in fostering collaboration.

There is a great deal of work to be done, including agreeing details on specifications and standards that will be essential to deliver joined-up services to consumers. But, other industries have shown how critical services can be successfully launched and evolved over time. For example, Digital TV faced similar technology integration challenges, with a large number of broadcasters and equipment manufacturers needing to come together to provide services into people’s homes.

The consumer engagement role of Digital UK and its board members, including Arqiva, the lead contractor for the SmartReach CSP bid, has been widely discussed. But, less well known is the part played by the Digital TV Group (DTG), which develops the specifications that are essential in order for technology to interoperate and for consumers to get the quality of service they expect. The DTG also provides an independent testing facility which is able – for example – to test new services, or planned over-the-air upgrades, with over 300 different consumer devices before they go live.

It is just this kind of hands-on collaboration that will be needed to seamlessly combine different technologies into high quality smart metering services that benefit consumers. This technical collaboration will also be important so that consumers have the freedom to switch suppliers, without needing to install lots of new equipment in their homes.

Simplifying the task

The task of integrating, testing and bringing live the new smart metering DCC services can be made a lot easier if we remove complexity.

Energy, Power Plant, Infrastructure© TonyV3112 Shutterstock 2012To start with, a robust testing and integration plan will be key to the success of the smart metering programme. There is a vast amount of testing that has to be done between the DCC, DSP and CSPs. This will include ensuring that Communications Hubs (the devices in each home that will enable communications within the home and through the nationwide Wide Area Network), smart meters and In Home Displays (IHDs) are interoperable.

At a minimum, at least two retailers and equipment from two meter manufacturers must have been through end-to-end testing before the DCC service can go live and the mass rollout of smart meters can commence.

Clearly, the greater the number of CSPs and communications technologies used, the greater the complexity and risk of delay to the programme. Conversely, reducing this complexity will simplify the challenge of integrating, testing and implementing the new DCC services.

Making a quick start

We believe that a collaborative approach will be essential to making a quick, positive start to the development of DCC services once contracts are awarded. SmartReach’s highly successful British trials – where we connected over 99 percent of meters with a single installation visit using a single long-range radio technology – have provided invaluable experience of working closely with utilities, installers, data service and metering technology providers. Our Co-Operation Agreements with DSP bidders are also well advanced.

If we are selected as CSP, we will bring the resources and experienced gained from Digital TV and from our GB smart metering trials to work in close collaboration with industry and other stakeholders, and would actively support the CDB through its Expert Panel.

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