The UK government pledged in 2009 to oversee the rollout of smart meters to some 26 million homes and several million businesses by 2020, at a cost of between £7bn and £10bn. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which is overseeing the initiative, smart meters are a key building block in the race to cut carbon emissions and reduce the nation’s electricity consumption.
Controversially, the energy suppliers are looking to pass on the costs of implementing smart meters to customers, despite the fact that the technology will allow them to reduce their operational expenditure. But ministers argue that the accurate consumption information that meters provide should make it easier for users to lower their bills by optimising their energy use.
“Smart meters have a vital role to play in our transition to a low carbon economy. They will provide consumers with the information they need to manage their energy usage effectively; encourage innovative services in the management of energy supply; provide opportunities for the industry to streamline processes; and pave the way for smart grids,” stated an open letter jointly prepared by Charles Hendy, Minister of State for Energy and Lord Mogg, Minister of State for Energy Chairman, Gas & Electricity Markets Authority in December last year.
Energy sector regulator Ofgem has published a rollout timetable that should see the first smart meters going live by next summer. The project will be led by suppliers, who must report to a central body called the Data Communications Company (DCC). The DCC’s precise role is yet to be finalised, but it will probably take on some form of procurement responsibility.
From a technology perspective, DECC and Ofgem have been fairly vague about their requirements, leaving utility suppliers, manufacturers and trade associations to flesh out what is needed. Even so, the Smart Metering Functional Requirements Catalogue published on 30 March 2011 (http://bit.ly/uhI88T) presents 119 different demands that outline the features required, if not the precise definition of what is needed to deliver them – “a baseline for the further development of the technical specifications”, in DECC parlance.