By John Parsons

The European Smart Metering Alliance (ESMA) was established in 2007 with the purpose of maximising the energy savings and sustainability benefits arising from any introduction of smart metering. Linked to the Energy Services Directive, this was due to be implemented by European member states by May 2008. The project is partly funded through the SAVE programme by Intelligent Energy Europe, an agency of the European Commission.

Article 13 of the Energy Services Directive requires European member states to provide energy customers with more information on their consumption, both on their bills and at time of use. The wording of the Article, however, is somewhat vague and makes its implementation subject to the cost effectiveness of any measures. This creates a situation where individual member states are likely to interpret Article 13 in different ways, potentially creating a very uneven market across Europe. The customer savings can also be expected to vary depending on the details of each implementation. A quick look at the National Energy Action Plans produced in 2007 by member states in response to the Directive confirms this outcome.

The wording of Article 13 means that governments and regulators will have to carry out their own cost benefit analyses of smart metering in order to decide on their implementation of the Directive (as has already been seen in a number of countries, such as The Netherlands and UK). This creates a critical need to find accurate and authoritative data for use in these analyses, both for the costs of smart metering and the benefits.

ESMA was designed to address these issues by collecting best practices in smart metering, especially related to energy efficiency, and spread these across Europe. A key task was to review the results of smart meter trials and develop an understanding of how best to influence customer consumption and what savings might be expected. This was intended to create a common approach and lead to a consensus on the savings to be assumed.

To achieve these objectives ESMA is structured in two parts – a project team comprising 14 participant organisations (research groups, utilities, energy agencies, vendors and trade associations) to research and write the reports, and an Alliance of stakeholders (currently more than 80) to feed in their views and ideas. The project is coordinated by BEAMA Limited. ESMA does not support any particular technical approach to smart metering but seeks to set out guidelines that any system should apply.

Defining smart metering

It became clear early on when looking at the various definitions of smart metering that there was no single interpretation of what smart metering is. The ESMA team produced its own functional requirements for smart metering such that any system should include the following features:

  • Automatic processing, transfer, management and utilisation of metering data
  • Automatic management of meters
  • Two-way data communication with meters
  • Provides meaningful and timely consumption information to the relevant actors and their systems, including the energy consumer
  • Supports services that improve the energy efficiency of the energy consumption and the energy system (generation, transmission, distribution and, especially, end use).

These features were seen as the minimum necessary to achieving the best effects on customers’ energy consumption and do not exclude other features needed to support other applications of smart metering.

Customer feedback

One of the key project findings so far relates to customer feedback. From the data collected on smart metering trials across Europe and the world, it was clear that these trials have been very varied in their approach to the customer, the feedback message and the route. The trials have also been carried out under very different market situations.

This made it hard to compare the results, but it has been possible to draw some general lessons:

  • Consumption data should ideally be directly and easy accessible to consumers so that they are able to see what is happening, without having to switch on an optional feedback device first
  • Feedback should be visually stimulating and more amenable to understanding and control
  • Besides kWh information, feedback should include more concrete and relevant information such as CO2 and financial savings in comparable graphs and pictures rather than numerical information
  • Feedback should deal with reachable targets and be based more on historic information, rather than comparative or normative information
  • Feedback should not be communicated in a negative way and focus more on wasted energy than necessary energy consumption
  • The choice of feedback technology should be considered carefully, because the preferred communication might not be through an indirect (delayed) personalised internet webpage, but more immediate through direct display showing upto- date energy usage information and supported by more detailed billing.

To make the comparison of future trial results easier ESMA has produced guidelines on setting up smart metering trials.

Smart metering guide

One of the key deliverables from ESMA is the “European Smart Metering Guide, Energy Efficiency and the Customer”. This document brings together the knowledge gathered during the preparation of the earlier reports and sets out current best practice for achieving energy savings from smart metering.

Aside from guidance on feedback given above, the main messages coming from the Guide are:

  • The concerns of consumers must be anticipated and catered for, and their data must be secure and not be used for purposes of which they disapprove
  • Multi-utility smart metering offers more energy savings and lower overall metering costs but will require careful system design if energy (and water) retailers are to share the system in a competitive market
  • Smart metering can be a key enabler for a number of important market developments, such as renewables and distributed generation, demand response, smart homes and smart grids, but it is vital to understand their requirements (such as data items and communications volume and speed) and embed support for them now as smart metering systems are implemented
  • The widespread and effective adoption of smart metering is going to need clear and sustained support from governments and regulators and the development of a full suite of standards to provide interoperability across Europe.

Next steps

Having now produced its main deliverables ESMA is moving into the next phase of the project. The major activity is now to disseminate the key findings of the Smart Metering Guide across Europe. It is recognised that the implementation of smart metering will be an expensive business and it is vital that sustainability elements should be built into it from the beginning. Failure to do this could result in costly modifications later or lost opportunities.

Another issue that has become apparent is the need to make energy savings an on-going feature of smart metering. One of the immediate effects of giving customers more sight of their usage is to allow them to eliminate wasted energy, such as turning off standby devices overnight. This, though, is a one-off effect and making the most of smart metering demands that other savings can be made. Once customer feedback and two-way communications become available, utilities can use these to support their energy savings campaigns. ESMA will work with utilities and other groups to highlight new techniques to save energy. One example of this is the work being done by several groups to break down the meter data and provide the customer with information on individual loads.

In summary, we are in the early stages of using meter data to influence customer behaviour and many groups are exploring this topic in different and innovative ways. These developments will be tracked and best practice spread as it appears in order to ensure that smart metering becomes an integral element of a low carbon future.

The first edition of the European Smart Metering Guide has been released to Alliance members. To receive a copy of the draft guide, contact the author at esma@beama.org.uk