Keeping the meter running

 

Malcolm Fletcher

Malcolm Fletcher of AMT-Sybex reports on the UK’s smart meter rollout—and how retailers can be ready for the next phase

 

Throughout the UK energy sector, smart metering teams are finding themselves under pressure. Compatibility and communication problems between the Data Communications Company (DCC) and the new generation of Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications 2 (SMETS 2) meters have caused delays, and in many cases, the smart meter rollout has slowed to a crawl.

Although approximately 10 million smart meters have now been installed, only a small proportion are SMETS 2 meters, and only a tiny percentage of those are currently connected to the DCC. Moreover, one of the major vendors of SMETS 2 meters has achieved only qualified certification, raising further concerns with retailers on supply chains.

With an end date for SMETS 1 meter rollout of 5th October 2018 (subject to derogations) and the first cohort of DCC meter enrolment set for November 2018, timescales are extremely tight and carry the real risk of stranding. Overall, the government’s target of installing 53 million meters by 2020 looks unlikely to be met.

Tackling the problems

The situation looks grim, but it’s important to focus on tackling the problems, not apportioning blame. The UK is one of the world’s most complex and diverse energy markets, and the rollout is extremely ambitious in terms of technology, size, and timing. With so many different requirements to meet and so many moving pieces in play, it was almost inevitable that technical problems would arise at some point.

In this piece we focus on what retailers can do now despite these problems. Although the major roadblock is the compatibility issues with the SMETS 2 meters, retailers can only play a supporting role here—the DCC and the hardware manufacturers will need to take the lead in resolving the problems. Instead, retailers should focus on getting their own houses in order. The top priority should be to ensure that their internal systems and processes are flexible enough to support a wide variety of meter data management scenarios and enable communication with a greater number of meter installation companies.

If—as seems likely—there will be an extended transition period, retailers will need a platform that can handle a combination of traditional meters and SMETS 1, SMETS 2 and AMR smart meters. Some of these meters will still need to be read manually; others may send data directly to the retailer; and the rest will send data via the DCC. Unless the retailer can support all these processes reliably and efficiently, the costs and risks of meter data management could spiral further out of control.

Lightening the load on retailers

At AMT-SYBEX, we’re currently working with two of the UK’s larger energy companies, which have deployed approximately 5 million smart meters between them. This means that about 50 percent of the UK’s current domestic smart meter estate is already integrated with our Affinity Meterflow meter data management solution. As well as these SMETS 1 and SMETS 2 meters, we also manage data from around half a million non-domestic meters.

Our experience of developing Meterflow over the last eight years has shown us that it’s possible to build a scalable, versatile meter data management platform—but it’s also highly complex and time-consuming to keep in line with the market and customer needs. For energy retailers, the burden of developing and maintaining such a platform for one of the most complex markets globally may prove to be a huge and costly distraction from their core business.

As well as the IT platform required to support the Smart Metering rollout, retailers also need to implement a complex operating model to support these processes. Because of the complex and technical nature of these processes, this wouldn’t necessarily be provided by an existing team within the organisation. That’s why we have been working with clients to look at new ways to support the smart metering rollout with a selection of business services in areas where there is a need to provide broader business support. For example, some of clients have started exploring with us a “smart metering as a service” offering, where we manage the back-office functions for key processes such as installation and commissioning. Effectively, we can take away some of the complexity around meter deployment and meter data management, and provide a compliant, future-proof solution that is guaranteed to keep pace with the needs of the industry. This is a service that we have developed using our smart metering and industry expertise and this is now available to our clients and new prospects.

Supporting next-generation networks

The smart metering as a service approach allows retailers to focus on driving out value from the data provided by smart meters to improve the customer experience rather than getting dragged down into a swamp of operational meter data processes and issues. Our operating model will ensure that any meters whether they are AMR, SMETS 1 or SMETS2 are managed correctly and the data is stored in the meter data management systems ready for onward processing and fed into downstream processes.

This will not only help to ensure that all the pieces fall into place as soon as the DCC’s smart meter enrolment service comes online—it will also serve as the foundation of a world-leading smart energy system that can offer next-generation capabilities, such as time-of-use tariffs, support for domestic generation, and faster switching.

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