The UK government is looking to complete a nationwide roll-out of smart-meters by 2020 (or earlier if possible) and, as part of this process, Ofgem and DECC are currently considering proposals on the best method of delivery in response to the Smart Metering Implementations Programme Prospectus which was issued in 2010.
Recent research by the University of Salford suggests that homes in the UK account for 25 per cent of the country’s emissions, so it is unsurprising then that the UK smart meter roll-out is predominantly focused on the role they can play in improving energy efficiency. However, Andy Slater, director, Sensus argues that the government should also be thinking about the evolution of the system from smart meters to the smart grid. He stresses that to this end a broad approach is required to ensure the benefits smart grids can deliver in terms of energy security and management efficiency are realised in the future.European roll-outs
The UK ‘smart’ project is currently retailer led with a focus on smart meters and the customer experience. However, in other markets it has been shown that equal benefits are realised through smart grid features. In Europe, where the energy utilities remain more vertically integrated, ‘smart’ projects are being specified with the active participation of the distribution network experts. Smart grids enable distributors to manage their networks more efficiently with real data to facilitate better planning and management of peaks.
In addition, smart grids bring a wide array of other benefits, offering the capability to:
- Improve reliability
- Reduce the price of electricity
- Offer new products and services
- Improve operational efficiency
- Promote environmental benefits
However, if the use cases for smart grids aren’t considered prior to a smart meter roll-out, or do not form part of the government mandate, it will be much harder to realise these benefits. Early smart meter roll-outs in the United States tended to install the meters first and then attempted to figure out how to use the data generated for smart grid purposes afterwards, which can be difficult.The importance of data
Data is a crucial element in creating an intelligent smart grid. Without clear use cases it’s not immediately clear which type of data will be most important to each of the parties involved. For example, interval data is important to the utility because it can correlate that with other events in the distribution network and start to transform that into information they can use for operations on a short-term basis. Outage reporting from meters is also important to utilities, but other data and functionality is required for smart grid elements including demand response (DR) and switching. Utilities can then also correlate that with their asset management functions and make better decisions in terms of maintenance planning, asset distribution, asset retirement and deployment. The UK is a particularly complex market with many parties involved, each of whom will need to determine the data and functionality they need from a smart grid.
For smart metering the UK has put great emphasis on the data consumers will need, specifying an In Home Display (IHD) which will display almost real-time consumption data. However summary data will make probably more sense to them and help them understand what their energy usage is on a daily basis and for cost management reconciling the IHD readings to the monthly utility bill may be the only data element that some care about.
However, there are some consumers that will want to look at things like load shifting and personal carbon footprints. As third party web based services develop some will want to share their data to ensure they are on the most cost effective tariffs or to allow these third parties to manage their consumption. Some consumers are now investing in micro-generation (wind and solar) that adds another layer of complexity on to how they are served, metered and managed as an integrated part of the smart grid.
The UK market should be taking this time to learn from other countries’ experiences and look into the use cases for smart grids from the outset. Many of the problems with early smart grid roll-outs centred not around the technology but rather on the communications between utilities, consumers and the regulators and the confidentiality and security of the data involved.Network technology importance
Communications networks to support smart grids have different requirements to those just required for smart metering. To fully realise the benefits of a smart grid the communications network must have low and defined latency, addressability, no contention with public network traffic and offer Service Level Agreements. It is important that the chosen network technology for the UK roll-out enables:
- Real-time, low latency, two way communication with endpoints over a ‘utility grade’ network
- Sufficient capacity to support energy demand, particularly in urban areas
- Effective demand forecasting through timely and accurate data l Greater input from renewable energy sources through an infrastructure that can adapt with the environment
These can be challenging for some network technologies which may rely on multiple relays across endpoint devices, each taking time hence adding latency, or they may share their capacity with public traffic and so do not offer SLAs on key performance metrics.
Within the UK project, smart grid requirements are currently very light due to the lack of a mandate from government for smart grid, and there’s a risk that the network functionality required to support future smart grid operations will be missed. If this happens it will be difficult, expensive and possibly impossible to fit retrospectively. Indeed, aspects like network latency, endpoint addressability and Service Level Agreements may not be able to be specified if the wrong technology is selected at the outset. Nationwide reliability and security standards are also something that should be considered and the network technology is also very important in ensuring that these are upheld.
The case for the UK having smart grids in the local distribution network is compelling. The government therefore needs to consider now where the benefits of smart grid applications play into their commitments to improved competitiveness, efficiency, renewable generation capacity and security in the energy sector, and ensure that the smart meter solution they are sponsoring now will fully support the move to smart grids in the future.
Andy Slater is director at Sensus. Sensus is a global leader in utility infrastructure systems and has in-excess of seven million smart meter and smart grid endpoints active today with over 225 utilities worldwide using it’s solution, FlexNet. This represents 40 per cent share of the 15 million to 20 million smart meters installed in North America. In the UK, Sensus is working with Arqiva to deploy a communications platform as part of the UK’s rollout of smart meters to all homes and businesses, which is currently in trial in Reading and supported by energy providers, including npower.
For further information, visit: www.sensus.com