Smart Metering

Talk – Tuesday 14th February 2017 ‘Smart Metering’
Ashley Pocock – EDF Energy
(The following article is based upon the talk delivered by Ashley Pocock) Let’s start by looking at the technology involved in ‘SMART’ metering.
SMART Meter Architecture
The meters are essentially digitised versions of existing gas and electricity meters. The metrology used might be updated however this is no different than one would expect if your existing meters were replaced. Although the readings are communicated directly to the energy provider they can be manually read in the same manner as present meters. What is different is the computational possibilities offered to the customer and the automatic way in which time dependent tariffs can be employed to minimise cost of energy usage. So, if you think that current tariff manipulation by energy suppliers confusing, get ready for future possibilities.
The installation comes complete with its own WIFI hub (LAN – local area network) into which the meters feed usage data and the energy supplier feeds tariff data. This allows a customer’s stand-alone display tablet to show graphically how power is being consumed at any time giving them the option of modifying their usage and, in theory, reducing their energy consumption. Cost of usage can also be displayed on a variable time increment i.e. hours, days, week etc. Every installation comes complete with a user display which is connected via the supplied WIFI hub allowing it to be used at any desired location within the hubs reach.
It is intended that the hub’s local area network (LAN) will have a bi-directional connection to a data communications company (DCC) via a wide area network (WAN) to which all households will be connected. This is achieved using a dedicated communications channel similar to that of a mobile phone which for the southern region will be provided by O2. The DCC controls who will have access to the households LAN and hence the energy consumption meters.
LAN ports will also be provided for the householder to make connections to other smart domestic devices such as washing machines, refrigerators, heating controls etc. Many new pieces of domestic equipment already have facilities that enable them to be connected (i.e. making them “smart”). Collectively this is known as the “internet of things” a market for which is fast growing.
Although one might wonder why we should indulge in such systems which, on the face of it, are primarily intended to read energy consumption meters remotely, but it is worth noting that most other countries already have similar systems. It is certainly widely used throughout Europe and the Americas so is quite clearly the way the global industry is going. As far as the UK is concerned it represents a massive investment creating the infrastructure to allow this to happen which has not been immune to development problems.
Installing smart meters is the responsibility of the energy supplier, and many intended for electricity consumption only have already been installed and therein arises the first problem. These meters fall short of the overall design performance due mainly to all of the individual components not being ready. This, apparently, has been compounded by a lack of compatibility between meters made by different suppliers. Consequently these early versions will require either replacement or upgrades.
Using a network such as this can have many advantages for householders by permitting them to connect the home network to their individual PC’s. Many items can be controlled through the network from wherever is convenient to the user. CAD systems can be employed and individual domestic smart devices networked. The possibilities are endless and therein lies a threat to security. The speaker mentioned the type of security measures that are to be employed and stated that no risk is attached to installations. The ability of these meters to disconnect the supply remotely makes them difficult to trust against the current situation whereby access to premises is required to disconnect supply.
The two pictures opposite show how the Gas meters look. It seems that a Gas meter installation has kept the same pipe pitch as can be found on current installations but they will need some kind of power connection for the built in electronics so in this respect a connection to the electricity meter is likely.
With a £12.2Billion price tag overall we should expect a good reliable system which takes into account any form of power usage and although a national specification exists to which all energy suppliers and equipment manufacturers are expected to comply, many issues are outstanding. One of the most serious seems to be compatibility with solar power generation. Only one energy supplier seems happy to install a smart meter in homes that have solar panels integrated. It seems that many users with solar panel installations are experiencing problems with currently fitted smart meters.
If you are considering letting your energy supplier fit smart meters in your home I recommend reading the “which” report before doing so in order that you are fully appraised of what’s involved and any associated risk. After all you are not legally obliged to have one but you will still be paying for it through energy bills since the cost of the programme has been built in. However it is likely that Energy providers will eventually adjust their tariffs making it advantageous to those who have smart meters installed. The “which” report can be viewed at - meters/article/smart-meters/getting-a-smart-meter-installed.
My own conclusion is that SMART maybe, but not a term that I would have personally used. To my mind “automated meter reading” would have been more appropriate. One can imagine the possibilities that will exist for the energy supplier but it is difficult to imagine that it is going to do very much for the householder in domestic installations. As for modifying ones’ use of power, it may well happen in a few cases but generally old habits die hard.

David Thomas