Tuesday, 12 May 2009

UK smart meter plans

In October 2008 the UK government announced that it intends to mandate electricity and gas smart meters for all households. Yesterday it set out its plans for smart metering in domestic households and at small and medium non-domestic sites in a consultation document, which is here.

The consultation makes proposals in two areas, the market arrangements for installing and managing smart meters and smart meter functionality.

The document points out that the roll out of smart meters will be a major undertaking, involving visits to over 25 million households to replace around 50 million meters. However, there is an indicative target of completing the roll out by 2020. Benefits of completing the process in that time are estimated to be between £2.5bn and £3.6bn over the next 20 years and a reduction in UK carbon emissions of about 2.6 million tonnes per year by 2020.

The Government’s current preferred approach is to make the gas and electricity supply companies responsibility for the provision of smart meters (installation and ongoing management) and to have a single central provider of communications services to and from meters.

In terms of functionality of the meters, the chart be
low summarises the proposals. Interoperability, based on an agreed set of functional requirements, is an integral part of the proposals.

For non-domestic metering, a consultation on advanced/smart metering for small and medium sized sites started in July 2008. The assumption was that metering in this sector would be provided under the existing competitive metering market rules, which allows for the right to change metering providers and, in some cases, for meters to be owned by customers. In terms of roll out, similar plans to the domestic market are envisaged.

The government also proposes to introduce a general requirement that metering in this sector should have the same minimum functionality as in the domestic sector, but allowing some flexibility for customers for whom domestic-style smart meters are inappropriate to their businesses. In terms of interoperability, the approach used in the domestic market is likely to apply in the non-domestic sector.

At least the discussion has started and there will certainly be lots to talk about. Unfortunately some of the press reports to date have made it sound like a trivial process, providing little benefit, increased energy charges and a potential government-backed fiasco.

The fears are understandable, but it is widely recognised that smart meters help reduce energy and hence carbon emissions. It's pretty much an essential part of getting emissions under control (for everyone), so the sooner the better. What is more surprising is that the benefits to the ICT industry are not more widely recognised. Counting and reporting energy use and carbon emissions will be a major requirement in the coming years and smart meters will add enormous functionality to the IT solutions.

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