It was only last year that Arqiva signed a £625m, 15-year deal to become smart meter communications service provider for the Northern region of the UK. But with a Government plan to fit 30 million homes with smart meters by 2020, Arqiva Smart Metering has a tough battle ahead. Roll out begins in earnest next year, a challenge the firm says it is meeting head-on.
Arqiva is already building data centres and starting to acquire the radio sites, David Green, programme director for smart metering, tells Wireless magazine. ‘It’s also about getting together as a data and comms company, as well as getting plans aligned and gathering all the specifications,’ he says.
Arqiva Smart Metering includes Sensus, BT and Detica, with Sensus’ technology forming a key part of the offering. Arqiva is also required to maintain regular contact with Telefónica, which was awarded the smart metering deals for the Central and Southern regions of the UK.
‘The DCC (see The UK Smart Meter Contract box-out) kicked off by getting us all together and agreeing how we would work in a partnership charter: that was an intensive period and got things off on a good fitting,’ says Green.
He maintains that so far, there have not been any issues that the firm ‘didn’t anticipate’. But he adds: ‘There is lots to do in finalising how meters will be tested and interoperable together.’
Part of that challenge will include connectivity in homes – especially in areas such as basements which are notoriously hard to reach.
Green is confident that Arqiva’s technology is fit for purpose: the firm has been testing the system’s capabilities for over three years now. Arqiva’s solution uses long-range radio technology, which the company has already deployed internationally in more than 16 million smart meters.
He says: ‘Our technology has been designed for hard-to-reach-areas. We started off with a trial in Reading, working with Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) to put devices in homes to see what the challenges would be. We also started doing tests for smart grid applications: they have their own challenges such as electrical interference.’
Green cites the example of a trial with Scottish Power in 5,000 homes in Glasgow. ‘This was in a village called Loch Winnoch, which was chosen because it was a notoriously difficult rural area,’ says Green, adding: ‘We told Scottish Power to deploy 5,000 meters as they would in the normal programme – including in basements and high rise buildings – and we achieved 99% connection rates the first time.’
The challenge now, says Green, is to roll out and ‘do it at scale’ to the 10 million properties within its contract in the north of the UK.
With the smart metering network forming part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure, security is a key consideration for the programme. Green is confident, saying: ‘People are quite rightly concerned about personal data – but it’s encrypted end-to-end.’
He adds: ‘We had to prove through the bidding process that we could hit the security standards set by GCHQ. The Government was very careful that what we proposed was as secure as possible: the data centres have that level of security from the outset.’
For additional security, Arqiva is also running a ‘security operation centre’, with the role of looking for unusual behaviour on the network. ‘As this is a dedicated network, it doesn’t connect to the internet or any other network,’ Green points out. ‘It is isolated.’
The programme’s benefits
When the smart metering programme does roll out, it is reckoned that it will benefit energy companies and distributors as well as consumers. ‘For the first time consumers will see their usage as it occurs,’ Green says. ‘Early trials have shown that presenting data on a portal can change behaviour.’
For the energy companies, processes will be more efficient, saving time and money by taking away the need to send staff out to read meters, for example.
Smart meters will form part of a future smart grid, the elusive technology which it is hoped will increase efficiency and manage power consumption. ‘When you put smart meters out there, the distribution network companies will be able to see what’s happening at a local level and make networks more efficient,’ adds Green. ‘This will allow them to manage the load on the grid rather than building lots of capacity.’
Currently, companies do not know which homes remain without power after a power cut. However, smart meters – feeding into the smart grid – will make it clear ‘exactly who is on and who is off,’ says Green.
Smart meters will also have a feature called “Last Gasp”. ‘The last thing it does before the power goes out is send an alarm to the network,’ Green says.
‘The smart meter is measuring power quality as well as consumption – i.e. volts and amps and their relationship. This will be available to distribution companies straight away,’ Green says. ‘They can then see how the local network is performing.’
And as the deadline for smart metering roll out fast approaches, improving the networks is a big focus for Arqiva. Green explains: ‘The networks were built after World War II as static networks. But today homes are more dynamic – they make energy as well as consuming energy. We are at a point where if we don’t do something, we will have to spend millions.’
The UK Smart Meter Contract
The UK Government’s £12bn smart metering programme aims to install smart meters in 30 million homes and small businesses by 2020. The contract is divided into a set of different responsibilities with different providers, as follows:
Department of Energy & Climate Change.
Data and Communications Company (DCC):
Smart DCC (part of Capita) won the contract to manage the smart metering service on behalf of its users and is contracted with, and manages, the data and communications service providers. The contract is worth £175m over 12 years.
Communications Service Providers (CSPs):
The CSPs will provide wide area communications to and from the smart meters.
- Northern Region: Arqiva Smart Metering - £625m over 15 years.
- Central Region: Telefónica - £1.5bn in total for both regions.
- Southern Region: Telefónica (see above)
Smart Energy Code Administrator and Secretariat:
Gemserv has signed a four-year contract worth £10m with the Smart Energy Code Company to develop and maintain the Smart Energy Code.
Beyond smart meters
Beyond the £12bn smart metering project, water meters are also undergoing a transformation. It is known that Thames Water will be rolling out smart water meters and Green says Arqiva is bidding for the contract.
Beyond utilities, Arqiva is also looking at areas such as smart cities – where there are intelligent street lights and buildings that manage supply. Green cites the example of a demand response firm called Kiwi Power company, which is connecting up buildings in London.
‘Most commercial buildings have a demand; they choose when they switch on and off the air conditioning, for example. If everything is connected together they can say, we are at a time of peak load,’ Green says. ‘That is happening today: it relies on communications, but it is a very practical solution. And once there are low cost communications that can reach deep inside buildings, other applications such as carrying out financial transactions will emerge.’