The benefits of smart metering are well documented, but before these can be unlocked, there is a substantial obstacle in the complex and fragmented means available for locating metering assets.
The obstacle arises from the unconnected, unlinked ways the electricity and gas industries identify and locate their meters at addresses. Some premises have no postal address, so linking meters becomes a problem. Address data quality is compromised and creates difficulties when identifying premises and matching addresses across different systems and organisations. All this has implications for the smart metering implementation programme (SMIP) and for subsequent market opportunities that it creates.
Sharing meter identification and locational datasets will streamline planning and smooth the SMIP process. A unique property identifier for each premise enables energy suppliers to share information without needing to match other datasets - addressing issues relating to data security and commercial confidentiality. Integrating datasets this way could keep the SMIP free from significant glitches, avoiding the reputational damage that might follow should consumers be badly served or costs run away.
Addressing the meter identification issue is becoming urgent. The Data and Communications Company (DCC) will, in 2014, start managing the data and communications services needed in smart metering. It will need a common identifier, a single spatial reference, for each of the 30 million British premises in its processes from the beginning to tie together the electricity and gas meter references. A retrospective change would add considerably to costs.
Already being used by government and water companies and insurers for every property in Great Britain, a unique property reference number (UPRN) could meet the smart metering spatial reference challenge. Our Address data pinpoints every property with a UPRN. In the energy sector, a UPRN could eradicate the ambiguity of the current arrangements, presenting marketing opportunities for suppliers beyond completion of the SMIP, including customer profiling on which to base tariff or energy management offerings.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has acknowledged the benefits to the SMIP in adopting a UPRN, pointing out that the DCC and the energy suppliers and network operators would benefit from the UPRN within the DCC’s inventory management database.
So what’s the problem?
Energy suppliers are unfounded in their concern that sharing common datasets could undermine their competitive positions. Adopting the UPRN could enable them to share information about a given premise without having to match commercially sensitive datasets – something DECC has acknowledged.
The success of a supplier-led roll out for smart metering will hinge on significant collaboration. This alliance will be made still more important by the need for suppliers to interact with the DCC, power and gas network operators and other agencies to ensure customers get the full benefits of smart metering.
Sharing datasets could smooth out suppliers’ planning for the mass roll out of smart metering. This has huge implications. Smart metering installations will have to be in the right place at the right time – every time – for five years to the 2019 completion deadline for the SMIP.
Reaping the rewards
But it is once smart metering is installed that the benefits will emerge. Unified, updated geographic information (GI) will enable suppliers to reap the full rewards from advanced metering technology, including opening up a wealth of market data; improving service with consistently accurate billing and customised communications; and bringing cost savings through the remote reading and efficiency in managing customer communications.
A common operational platform and single premise identifier could make all these gains readily more attainable, and add value to energy businesses by creating interoperability across existing databases and departments. And ultimately pan-energy sector adoption of common GI datasets could future proof data, preparing suppliers and networks for smart grids which will create new markets, advance energy efficiency and curb carbon emissions.
These are common goals. Common GI datasets point the way to their attainment.
Mark Hobell is Head of Public Sector, Energy and Infrastructure at Ordnance Survey.
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