All UK utility companies are busy behind the scenes testing and piloting the technical infrastructure that will underpin the smart metering rollouts demanded by DECC, though whether we can rely on the vested interests of suppliers and manufacturers alone to come up with interoperable, easily interchangeable systems remains to be seen.
Centrica-owned British Gas expects to roll out a further 60,000 smart meters to its business customers before the end of 2011, taking the total to almost 200,000 across the UK. The company has also said it plans to deliver two million smart meters to its residential customers by the end of 2012, each of which will have up to four devices installed: two smart meters, an in-home display showing usage information and a communications link that transmits data between the various devices and back to British Gas.
British Gas is using Landis+Gyr (L+G) smart meters, which will link to a Trilliant home communications hub, which in turn feeds information to a L+G in-home display, though the company is also in talks to take similar display modules from third parties. Information about usage will be relayed from the communications hub back to a Trilliant head unit within British Gas headquarters via Vodafone’s GPRS network, for which a managed services contract is in place.
The company has also signed a contract with German firm Elster to supply duel fuel smart meters that support both AS 330 electricity meters and BK-G4E gas meters, and is looking at options to fit monitors or sensors to boilers and thermostats, interconnected by ZigBee wireless personal area network (WPAN) technology, which will feed into home broadband routers allowing customers to remotely monitor and manage their central heating.
“Proprietary [radio] technology is not the way forward and we would like to standardise around a common approach, which for us is ZigBee,” says Petter Allison, managing director of technology and innovation at British Gas. “We are seeing the beginning of a [supplier] eco-system here where we can commoditise some devices and still have them working with the smart meter industry specification.”