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[ Spotlight: Smart metering ]

(SRSM) specification. The three companies plan to develop interchangeable and interoperable command sets to support smart home area networks (HANs) based on Zigbee’s Smart Energy Profile (SEP) and wide area networks (WANs) based on Device Language Message Specification (DLMS) protocols. Frank Hyldmar, Elster’s executive vice-president – electricity, says: ‘Smart metering in the UK is a huge technical and logistical project. Interim solutions jointly developed by industry leaders can only ease the transition to open standards and enable an earlier adoption of smart metering solutions.’

Green agenda There are a number of different smart meters on the market with different types of functionality and scope. For instance, one ‘intelligent’ system that has been introduced manages a home’s hot water and heating systems, based around how people live their life. The race is now on to develop smart meter technology,

which itself is energy efficient. Green electricity supplier, Ecotricity, has set its sights on doing just that; its founder and managing director, Dale Vince, says: ‘We have begun research and development into a smart meter technology that is simpler, faster, cheaper and less wasteful than other products on the market.’ However, it is the analysis of data that provides the

real benefit of having a smart meter. As Giuliano Digilio points out: ‘Having a smart meter installed is only effective if the information that it provides can be used by the homeowner. A smart meter alone won’t save energy – that is down to how users interpret and act on the data.’ To help achieve this, Microsoft has announced the

launch of its energy management service, Hohm. German utility provider, Yello Strom, the first European company to use Google’s PowerMeter, has also developed a prototype application that lets its meters use Twitter to provide customers with information about their energy consumption.

Replacement There has already been major investment in the UK smart meter sector, with energy suppliers such as British Gas launching smart meter trials and setting up specialist metering divisions. At present the projected cost of installing approx 26 million electricity meters and 22 million gas meters is approximately £7bn. Energy companies will be responsible for the project

management of smart meter installations, which will be the biggest programme of work since the natural gas conversion took place during the 1970s. The project could amount to a cost of £15 per household per year between 2010 and 2020, and £10 of that will be apportioned to cost savings by the suppliers. The customer will cover the remaining £5; however, the average consumer will potentially save two to three per cent of their energy usage per annum, and therefore reduce their energy bills by £25 to £35. Replacing old meters is not always an easy task though, particularly in buildings of multiple occupancy. It can take even the most experienced installer hours to figure out which meter belongs to a particular flat.

The projected cost of installing approx 26 million electricity meters and 22 million gas meters is approximately £7bn

Opportunities Being able to handle the sheer amount of work that a project like this involves is a problem about which Mark Daeche, First Utility’s chief executive, comments: ‘There aren’t enough meter installation engineers. In the last year we’ve taken on 500 to 600 customers a day but only added 100 to 150 meters a day.’ This means that electrical contractors who have the

requisite skills should be in demand from the utility companies once the roll-out starts in earnest. While a certain amount of training will be necessary, owing to the lack of standards and guidelines on this subject, much of the training available at the moment is manufacturer specific. However, Giuliano Digilio is more concerned about the

lack of dialogue between organisations such as the ECA and HVCA and the energy companies. He comments: ‘The roll-out of smart meters is an enormous project. We are disappointed that the utility companies seem reluctant to utilise the vast numbers of electrical contractors who would welcome the opportunity to get involved and could ensure that the job is carried out to the required standards. We hope to see a growing number of electrical contracting companies working closely in conjunction with the utility companies for the installation of smart meters.’

In summary Clearly, the roll-out of smart meters is a massive undertaking and one that is going to require the expertise of the electrical and gas sectors if it is to be carried out correctly. Once the various technological and logistical issues are resolved, it should mean that the UK’s homeowners and energy users can take a more informed approach to energy use and do more to reduce their carbon footprint. With cooperation between the various parties, this transition to a smarter world will enable everyone to benefit.

Case study: Making the change Marcus Sayer lives in Norfolk and recently had a smart meter installed in his home

Q: How was the installation of your smart meter? MS: The process was very satisfactory, the appointment was made at a convenient time and the engineers explained how the smart meter works.

Q: What have you noticed about the way you are billed?

MS: The biggest difference is that my bills are now accurate. I used to loathe getting estimated bills, and this is a far more accurate way of paying for what you use.

Q: What has this meant to your household expenditure? MS: The biggest improvement is on cash flow and forecasting. The smart meter helps in two ways – firstly, we know we’re paying the right amount, so we don’t need to double check or confirm the reading is correct, and secondly, we can look at previous periods’ consumption knowing they are correct, and then forecast how much we’re likely to spend on electricity.

Q: Do you think having a smart meter will enable you to become more energy efficient? MS: It allows us to make changes to our energy usage where we can. Because we can see when and where consumption is high, we can try to do something about it – we are a lot more energy-conscious as a result.

Autumn 2010 ECA Today 43

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