Network security, accuracy and reliability, and first-time connectivity have emerged as energy utility executives' key concerns for the proposed £10bn national smart meter project.
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A survey of 36 senior energy executives in the UK found them unsure of which network technology to use for a successful smart meter project, according to smart grid communications specialist Sensus.
Two-thirds of interviewees said security of the network was key to the project's success. This included the protection of customer data and the control of access to critical systems. These could be problematic if they were not "baked into" the network from scratch, they felt.
Connectivity was also a key concern, with 58% identifying high first-time connection rates as a key success factor.
This could be a stumbling block to network effectiveness, Sensus said. It quoted estimates from cellular provider Vodafone that only 70% of UK homes had cellular coverage to their meter cupboard. This could leave around nine million homes unconnected, it said.
Poor connection rates of meters would increase customer complaints and undermine customer confidence, it said. It would also require more engineering visits, raising the cost of the roll-out, and potentially reduce key benefits of the smart meter project, such as helping the environment (66%) and decreasing call centre volumes (58%).
Sensus director Andy Slater also raised the issue of roll-out targets, which are so far undefined. "Targets for connecting the majority of meters have not been proposed and are not really being debated at this time," he said. "This is concerning given that the roll out involves potentially 27 million UK homes and 48 million meters at a cost estimated at around £9bn."
Slater supplies smart meter projects with technology based on long-range radio transmissions. His firm claims a 40% share of the 15-20 million smart meters installed in North America. He urged the UK government not to dismiss long-range radio in favour of cellular radio.
Sensus is working with Arqiva, BT and energy providers including npower on a pilot project in Reading.