by Mark Thompson
Smart metering will help suppliers and consumers understand energy usage, improve efficiency and reduce consumption – but the road to these benefits will be a long one. The UK government wants all homes to have a smart meter by 2019, but it’s likely to take a decade or more before traditional meters are completely replaced – and many other markets are currently in a similar position.
Although the final destination is a long way off, utilities need to start changing the way they collect and manage meter data – and they need to start right now. They still need to work with metering agents to collect readings and perform maintenance on traditional meters, but they will also need to deploy new automated meter data management systems that can exchange information directly with smart meters.
Implementing these new systems and the processes around them will be a major challenge. One crucial aspect – which many vendors seem to have overlooked – is the need to run both the old and new metering processes in parallel until all the traditional meters have been replaced. Without a coherent approach to data-flow management for both types of metering, utilities will struggle to operate successfully during the long transition period.
Moreover, although the journey to smart metering won’t be an easy one, suppliers cannot afford to make the transition painful for their customers. If the public perception of smart metering is not carefully managed until the benefits start to be realised, it will be much harder to drive smart meter adoption.
The key to a smooth transition will be the ability to manage both traditional and smart metering processes with a single, unified platform. This will not only reduce the need to make expensive and risky changes to legacy back-end systems – it will also enable the re-use of existing processes for new smart metering purposes.
For example, although metering agents won’t be needed to take readings from smart meters, they will still play an important role in installation and maintenance. With a unified solution, suppliers will be able to integrate the smart and traditional processes to automate the management of meter faults. This approach will avoid the cost and complexity of maintaining parallel sets of processes and parallel systems for over a decade. In addition, reporting across the end-to-end process will be centralised, avoiding additional reporting costs.
Suppliers will find an easier path to smart metering if the solutions they adopt are built for the journey, not just for the ultimate destination. A unified approach to both traditional and smart metering will help them take the next step.