By Patrick Mortel

Itron embraces open interface specifications, simplifying and future-proofing both software and hardware investments for utilities.

By 2020, the EU electricity market Directive dictates that 80% of EU households will be equipped with smart meters. However, the successful development of a modern, smart electric power grid depends upon the creation of an interoperable framework. Utilities, energy regulators, policy makers and key players within the energy industry have long called for the establishment of a clear set of universal definitions and communications standards applying to smart metering technology. The European Commission has also issued a mandate to the European Standardisation Organisations to develop a set of standards for smart metering.

Efforts to establish and maintain a set of universal definitions and standards have been made through the creation of the internationally recognised body, the DLMS User Association (DLMS-UA). The DLMS-UA developed DLMS/COSEM; DLMS “Device Language Message Specification” and COSEM “Companion Specification for Energy Metering”. This is a common language enabling partners to understand each other and today is the language used in multi-utility smart metering projects using various communication networks such as Ethernet, GPRS and PLC to transport data.

Itron made interoperable specifications one of its key priorities early on knowing that utility companies are reluctant to rely upon only one smart meter manufacturer for all of their smart metering needs. At the request of major utilities and in collaboration with other smart meter manufacturers, Itron has completed tests proving that its smart meters are fully interoperable with those of other meter manufacturers. This was achieved by incorporating interoperable device interface specifications (IDIS) that are based on existing open international standards primarily defined and maintained by the DLMS-UA, but also by other relevant technical bodies (e.g. M-bus user group).

Itron is pioneering open, standardised metering solutions through IDIS by implementing existing standardised frameworks in a coordinated approach to create real interoperable products. IDIS allows any other supplier that wants to incorporate identical interface specifications to do so. By allowing customers to mix and match products from different suppliers, the development of smart grid applications will progress much faster. The scope covers a full end-to-end solution from the Home Area Network (HAN) to Wide Area Network (WAN) and the interface to utilities’ existing IT infrastructure.

The application of the existing open standards into interoperable products is obtained by an agreed definition of interfaces between Itron and other manufacturers. The interfaces themselves are defined by means of “interoperability packages” with each package defining functional subsets. The long term aim is to have IDIS packages covering all elements of the interoperable solution. Package 1 of IDIS is already defined and due to be released in the early part of 2010. Its main focus is on PLC metering and will encompass the major smart metering functionalities, i.e. meter reading for electricity, gas, heat and water, quality of supply supervision, tariff management and breaker management, among others, as required by European Utilities. Package 1 also covers load management and contains some security functions such as data encryption and authentication using the latest security algorithms defined by DLMS-UA standards. As part of package 1, multi-utility (electricity, gas, water and heat) meters are integrated via wired or wireless M-bus. Other protocols such as ZigBee, for example, may follow in future packages as appropriate. Internet Protocol (IP) based communication on both the meter and concentrator level will be part of package 2 which is scheduled for release at the end of 2010.

Technology is constantly evolving and so it is vital that IDIS offers a flexible and futureproof architecture. An upgradeable standardisation framework will allow customers to invest confidently in Itron’s smart metering technology safe in the knowledge that they can upgrade in the future. The interface specifications that Itron has worked to develop will be made available to all parties willing to develop open, interoperable products to share in the same vision of the future: the creation of a plug-and-play, truly interoperable world.