By Fabio Toledo

Taking into account a market with 27 million customers, fully competitive since 1998 for residential customers, with approximately 600,000 customer changes of energy supplier per month, it is difficult to imagine efficient management of all these customers without smart metering.

The government’s Energy White Paper issued 23 May 2007 does not mandate residential smart metering and there will be a further period of consultation. The government has mandated real time electricity displays in new homes from May 2008, when fitting new or replacing old meters, on customer request, and significantly, also requires ‘advanced’ meters to be fitted to large business users for both gas and electricity. The government expects smart metering to be introduced to the residential market within the next ten years, but how this will happen is an open question.

A large scale £20 million trial of smart meters, real time energy display units and other energy saving interventions is to be conducted in the UK over the next two years to assess their role in cutting household energy consumption.

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Figure 1 - Potential influences on a smart meter rollout in UK

Different aspects currently influence an eventual rollout of smart metering in the UK (Figure 1).

Based on this scenario, the question is still: when will a full rollout commence? In order to answer this question, other immediate questions appear like:

  • What do customers think of smart metering and do they want energy efficiency?
  • What obstacles need to be overcome to enable smart metering to be delivered?
  • Is the smart metering business case commercially viable (supplier business case different to government business case based on CO2 value)?
  • What can it do for demand management and microgeneration?
  • How can customer behaviour be influenced through this technology?
  • How can this technology be influenced through customer behaviour?
  • How does the customer benefit from smart metering technology?
  • Will government incentivise and/or encourage new technology or stand in its way?

These and other questions are currently under discussion by different entities in the UK market. A number of these questions can also be analysed in the large scale trials that EDF Energy is participating in.

Another consideration is the operational aspects associated with the implementation of a smart metering project in a fully competitive market such as in the UK. Interesting linked questions are:

  • How can a smart metering rollout be implemented in a fully competitive market and be used by all the energy suppliers without provoking meter changes every time that a customer changes supplier?
  • Are dual smart meters for both gas and electricity for all the energy suppliers in the UK a feasible solution?
  • Can all the different energy suppliers of this competitive market work together to provide a smart metering framework and how will the regulator/government view this in respect of competition law?

The answers to these questions may be provided by a project and workgroups formed by the major energy suppliers in the UK via the Energy Retail Association (ERA). However, coordination between the industry, government and the regulator is currently only informal.

ERA WORKGROUP PERSPECTIVE
In order to avoid unnecessary meter changes and other issues every time that a customer changes energy supplier in the UK, an interoperable smart metering platform is being considered by the ERA to be used by all the 40-plus suppliers. This platform is being developed in the Supplier Requirements for Smart Metering (SRSM) project. This platform includes gas and electricity meters, interoperability among the different devices, communication methods, data sets, industry processes, new industry roles and many other associated aspects. Several workgroups have been created in the SRSM project and EDF Energy fully participates in all of them.

Once it is agreed that a smart meter can be used by any of the energy suppliers, it is necessary to ensure that all the different functionalities of the different energy suppliers are either incorporated or could be downloaded to these meters. It is also necessary to ensure that this platform will be futureproof to provide new services using the common meters. Thus it is necessary that the different suppliers’ meters will have at least the minimum physical and logical capability to be upgraded with the functionalities of a specific energy supplier.

Another challenge is to define a fully interoperable solution in order to be able to incorporate the different suppliers’ requirements. This interoperability level is essential in order to allow the suppliers differentiation and competition in the UK market.

It is equally important that a smart metering system will be composed of a complete interoperable open platform in terms of meters, communications, systems and protocols in order to be able to be utilised by the different market players in the UK and to allow communication between the different devices in the field, such as gas meters, electricity meters, customer displays and other devices to their authorised parties.

The interoperability must also allow competition in the UK market. The smart metering system must enable suppliers to offer innovative services to customers.

LARGE SCALE TRIALS OF SMART METERS IN THE UK
The trials are being funded by £10 million from government, matched by a similar amount from the companies involved, and will be administered by the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority, Ofgem. In these trials 15,000 households will get smart meters, 8,000 will receive clip-on ‘real time’ display units, which attach to existing meters, and another 17,000 households will test new ways of receiving information to help them cut their energy use.

The smart meter includes a small display unit, which customers can carry round the house, testing how much cash and carbon they could save by turning off appliances. They will highlight the energy used by TVs, phone chargers and other appliances left on standby.

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Figure 2 - Potential interoperable smart metering
structure for the UK

EDF Energy and three other large suppliers were selected to conduct the trials. EDF Energy can display consumption on devices like the TV or Internet. The suppliers will be able to monitor energy use, calculate bills accurately, provide energy efficiency information and assess change in customer behaviour. The main government objective of the trials is to measure the impact of smart metering and the information it provides on customer behaviour.

In addition trial partners will include six metering/feedback device companies, four IT specialist companies, two charities and three universities. Evaluation of the results and comparison of the findings from the different approaches being trialled will be carried out by the Centre for Sustainable Energy with the Universities of Oxford and Surrey.

EDF ENERGY AND EDF R&D COOPERATION
In order to deal with all these challenges and to ensure the coherence of this project with the other smart metering projects from EDF Group, EDF R&D and EDF Energy are working closely together. Indeed, regular meetings have been held over the past five years.

Currently lots of technologies are available in the market in terms of smart metering systems. These technologies include different functionalities, communication technologies, protocols and meter features. The chosen technology must be fully compatible with customer needs, local laws and regulatory policies. This is why, even with the large number of technology offers, it is hard to find a completely compatible product to meet specific market needs and requirements. Different standards are also applied around the world, based on different local laws and regulations. Taking these challenges into account it is easy to assume that the success of a smart metering project is directly dependent on the smart metering specification. The specification must be carefully prepared in order to adapt the current products and standards to the market needs. The specification must be fully compatible with all these different market requirements.

It is also important that efficient project management will take place in order to deal with all these requirements and with transversal groups both within and outside the EDF group. Technical and commercial groups must work together in order to provide an efficient smart metering platform able to provide basic market functionalities and EDF Energy’s differentiation features.

Additionally to the efficient project management of multidisciplinary groups, it is essential that a full work programme of research, development and tests is adopted. It is essential that all the different offers are part of a serious process of evaluation in order to assess the feasibility of a solution in relation to the market requirements. It is also essential that the products are part of a complete series of laboratory tests and analyses before being installed in the field. Tests such as safety, metrology, communication and others must be executed.

It is also necessary that additional pilots will take place in order to investigate the different aspects related to the use of the technology, such as questions related to the friendly use by the customers and their feedback. Customer feedback is one of the most important points in this evaluation process.

Currently EDF Energy, in partnership with EDF R&D, is providing a series of tests and additional pilots in order to evaluate some products available in the market and customer feedback about them. These pilots and tests are being carefully done in order to investigate the potential of a mass installation of smart metering. The international expertise of the EDF R&D Group, their laboratories and installations are also very important to this process.

CONCLUSIONS
EDF Energy is preparing requirements to investigate the potential for the mass installation of smart meters. Specifications are also being prepared by the major participants in the market in order to provide a possible common specification of metering systems for all UK energy suppliers.

The experience of the large scale trials that EDF Energy is participating in will provide valuable knowledge of the issues surrounding the deployment of smart metering.

Taking into account the different challenges associated with a smart metering implementation, in order to deal with them it is essential to produce efficient specifications under efficient project management in order to offer the best services to the customers.

Further investigation is currently being done by the regulator on smart metering implementation in the UK. Different entities in the market are also currently mobilised to provide the right answers to an eventual smart metering deployment for this fully competitive market. An eventual smart metering system rollout must allow the suppliers differentiation in this competitive market. EDF Energy is working together with the industry in order to prepare an interoperable smart metering system for the UK.

EDF Energy is also working in a partnership with EDF R&D to be ready to deal with all the challenges associated with an eventual smart metering rollout.

Taking into account all the international implementations and the increase in customer and market needs, the question is no longer if smart metering will occur but when and how a full rollout will happen?