The Smart Meter Update Conference 2017: The View From Critical Software

July 6, 2017

The Smart Meter Update Conference provides the opportunity to discuss the latest progress on the UK's smart meter rollout, from the growth of the DCC to the meter installation, testing and assurance processes. Find out more about the conference through the eyes of Critical Software.

smart meter update conference 2017

Last week, Critical Software attended and exhibited at the Smart Metering Update conference. The intimate event, run by Marketforce, is primarily attended by people from companies and government agencies involved in the smart meter market in the UK. This year, there were also several attendees visiting from other countries to learn more about the UK’s experience to date.

Jeremy Yapp from the trade association BEAMA, opened the conference and welcomed the first speaker. Oliver Sinclair, from the new government Department for Business,

Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), provided a much anticipated update on the progress of the SMIP programme, confirming that the targets for smart meter installations are still in place. Originally, the promise was misinterpreted to mean that all consumers would have a smart meter installed by 2020, but Oliver made it clear that the government’s manifesto had not changed; by 2020 all consumers will be offered a smart meter as per the original promise.

Next up, Jeremy Butler from national energy supplier EDF shared some interesting comments about installations and the importance of a professional installation team. He highlighted the fact that the team responsible are the ‘front-line’ of the operation, from an energy supplier and SMIP point of view. He also commented that 80% of their SMETS1-installed consumer base are taking action to reduce their energy use and most are positive about their meter usage experience. He noted that more work is needed to solve challenges in certain areas. These include developing the AltHAN (Alternative Home Area Network) / DBCH (Dual Band Comms Hub) solutions, the transition requirement for installers to adjust installation style from SMETS1 to SMETS2 methods and the ability of the industry to perform end-to-end testing.

End-to-end testing is something that Critical Software has focused on over the last 12 months. We've developed an end-to-end testing solution that provides both real and emulated connections to the national smart meter infrastructure to help with this problem.

The next talk was delivered by Gavin Beresford from Ecotricity, a green electricity company based in the Cotswolds. Gavin shared experiences from a smaller supplier’s point of view, covering issues like overcoming complexity and delivering value for consumers through functional, usable and integrated technologies. He also noted how these technologies must be practical, agile and future proofed. Gavin made some interesting points about the challenges facing smaller suppliers and how they need to balance a reasonable amount of investment against the economic need to remain competitive.

Next was Jim Sutherland from energy distributor SP Energy Networks, who talked about how to prepare for a smooth roll-out and the importance of cross-industry collaboration; a theme that was to repeat through the conference via speakers, in forums and during the breaks.

Jeremy returned and led a brief panel session where speakers discussed the importance of SMETS1 (due to the higher-than-expected number of SMETS1 meters predicted to be installed before the switch to SMETS2 installs occurs), the lessons learned from SMIP so far (such as the importance of communication and expectation control of wider stakeholders) and the potential impact of Brexit on the programme. It was a poignant and interesting debate.

Helen Fleming from the Data Communications Company, the company responsible for the national smart meter grid, took to the stage after the break. She spoke of the progress the company had made recently, pointing to an enhanced service support function, crucial to the success of this pioneering project. She mentioned that the DCC operations have scaled-up considerably to deal with the v1.3 go-live date. One of the primary objectives, once the system is live, is to make sure that sufficient services are available so early issues are resolved quickly. SMETS1 interoperability was also mentioned and Helen advised that details of the way forward would be announced in the next few weeks. If you’re interested in how Critical Software have been working with the DCC on the challenge of the SMETS1 issue, take a closer look at our Enrolment Options Testing project.

During lunch, the Critical team were back greeting guests on our exhibition stand, providing explanations of the software development and testing services we provide in the smart meter market. We demonstrated our SMITEn solution to a variety of interested attendees, including representatives from meter manufacturers, energy suppliers, industry groups and government agencies. Many people wanted to know more about the progress of our SMDA services (which we provide alongside our partners, NMi) and our new SMTaaS offer (Smart Meter Testing as-a-Service) which accepts smart devices (meters, IHDs, CHs etc.) and tests them using our laboratory in Coimbra, Portugal.

It was Duncan Carter, from energy supplier Co-operative Energy, who took the infamous post-lunch speaker spot, but his talk kept the audience engaged thanks to an interesting presentation delivered from the perspective of his organisation. He spoke of how the install process can make or break a client relationship and even raised the subject of what the impact might be on the industry for a SMETS3 or SMETS4 transition. He made some good points about risk mitigation in the process: considering costs, regulations, quality and relationships as well as how steps like multi-sourcing can help with poor performance of suppliers. Duncan mentioned the need to be very cognisant of the need to test and trial equipment early and for SMETS1, the subject of security should be of particular concern. This is due to the challenges involved in inheriting SMETS1 meters from new clients and the danger of how current SMSO services are non-regulated.

Sarah Craig from Telefonica and Richard Channell from Arqiva, both communications companies, stepped up to the podium next to give their individual updates on the progress with the south and central, and north region WAN coverage implementations respectively. Those areas that are difficult to reach are very high on the action list now, with a collaborative effort being put into solving the issues with a variety of innovative technologies.

The final session of the day focused on encouraging consumers to engage and buy-in to the vision of smart energy. Colin Griffiths from Citizens Advice kicked this topic off, talking about how the service is finding solutions for customer problems with smart meters by teaming up with partners in the energy industry.

Rob Smith from Smart Energy GB, the support campaign behind the smart meter roll out, spoke about maximising opportunities. He mentioned how the customer response so far has been considerably more positive than what’s being reported in some areas of the media and questioned how this will play out when customers engage more with the service through increased use.

Peter Haigh from Bristol Energy, a local energy supplier which began operating two years ago, picked up the thread of engaging consumers and shared some innovative ways this can be achieved. He discussed the value of building long-term relationships and securing them with a mix of reliable energy, fair prices, clear billing and tailored offerings. Peter stated that smart meters are increasing the capability of energy suppliers to provide a better and more personalised customer service, thanks to features such as smart tariffs and alerts.

Audrey Gallacher from trade association Energy UK, took to the stage to deliver the final talk of the conference. She reiterated the point that, ultimately, the success of smart metering will depend on collaboration. Everyone must work together to make it happen, to make sure staff and customers are protected and to ensure that the maximum return is made on the investment provided. Some of these benefits are already being realised, but there is so much more that can be achieved.

It is true that there has been considerable success in getting consumers engaged in the smart meter programme in the UK. Technology has managed to overcome many challenges that some industry experts believed to be impossible to solve and the installation of SMETS1 meters to date has resulted in a clear reduction in general complaints from consumers in the energy market. There are still challenges and we should not compromise on points of health, safety and security. However, we can, as an industry and a country, realise incredible benefits from the smart meter revolution. As Audrey stated in her closing remarks, ‘we need to work together on this – that is what is critical.’

By the end of the day, it was clear that collaboration and high quality end-to-end device testing were noted as vital requirements for success of the UK roll-out. The implementation of SMETS2 meters is on the horizon now and the transition from SMETS1 to SMETS2 installs will be a challenge, but it is an area that Critical Software is helping with.

Our work in developing end-to-end test tools for smart meter devices, with real and emulated connectivity to related devices and networks, will continue to provide assurance and confidence for meter manufacturers and energy suppliers alike.

To learn more about our tools and services, please visit our energy pages or get in touch with us.