Connecting for the public good

18/02/2019

First published in Utility Week on 15th February 2019 Chief executive's view: A smart network for all

Written by Angus Flett, CEO at the Data Communications Company.

 

As world-leaders departed and Davos returned to its primary role as a Swiss ski resort, the resounding message from last month’s World Economic Forum was not about the challenge of Brexit, but the overwhelming need to commit to achieving a lower carbon economy. In terms of energy, we are learning that more must be done with less, and that technology able to utilise data is the key that will unlock opportunities to reduce our impact on the planet.

The energy industry in Great Britain is undergoing a transformation, and smart metering is at its heart. Smart meters are a vital component in the realisation of a data-driven energy grid, which will provide Britain with an intelligent and sustainably managed power supply. Not only will consumers be empowered to monitor and manage their energy use, but at a macro level distribution network operators will be able better to match supply with demand, leading to greater stability and more efficient use of gas and electricity.

Smart DCC’s secure data network, which was delivered two years ago, is right at the core of this tech revolution. We are supporting the roll-out and operation of 53 million gas and electricity smart meters in 30 million homes and small businesses across the country.

There is significant momentum behind the project. In June last year there were just over 400 second generation smart meters connected to the network; as of February, we are closing in on 400,000. We’re averaging more than 5,000 installations every working day, or 9 every minute. As we begin to operate at scale, the opportunities afforded by our platform to create and extend public good are becoming clear.

Two major driving factors will govern further investment in, and re-use of, the network.

First, we have a responsibility to our customers in the energy industry – primarily the energy companies and the distribution network operators. Smart DCC operates under a licence that requires innovation and re-use of the network in order to reduce costs for our customers. 

Second is the unique potential to benefit Great Britain. The network is one of the largest of its kind in the world; when fully realised, it will have greater reach than superfast broadband, digital TV or cellular phone networks. Our platform is a valuable national infrastructure asset which opens up great possibilities.

Given its unparalleled reach, Smart DCC’s network is uniquely positioned to enable a wide array of innovations for maximum benefit in society - not just in energy, where it will support the shift to electric vehicles and smart grids; but in other areas too. The data that can be gathered safely and securely from consumers across Britain, with their permission, could revolutionise the way we look at healthcare, monitoring older people in their homes, preventing fire, or sensing flood risk. We could be become the first, truly smart nation.

During the next 12 months we will begin the process of enabling that innovation.  We will open a testing facility in Manchester for our customers, which will also house a state-of-the-art innovation hub. This will enable the energy industry and tech innovators to come and safely experiment on our network and explore what beneficial services they could deliver. 

I am really excited that we will become part of the north west STEM cluster and contribute to the Northern Powerhouse. There is so much potential in this region of Britain: we have already begun the process of partnering with research establishments like the University of Salford, who are leading experts in the use of smart technology. We welcome further conversations, and invite anyone who thinks we might be able to help them to get in touch.

The immediate and overriding priority is to focus on our day-job. Smart DCC is preparing to support its customers with the mass enrolment of first generation (SMETS1) smart meters onto the network, which will allow consumers to retain their smart functionality when they switch energy supplier. Our network is ready and DCC is committed to a smooth process for energy suppliers, with whom we will need to work closely as, together, we extend the benefits of smart metering to millions more energy consumers. 

There is no doubt that challenges lie ahead; but as the energy sector changes faster than ever, it is clear that delivering the smart metering revolution is the way to a greener Britain.

Smart DCC will continue to play a vital, enabling role at the heart of this revolution, connecting homes and businesses to the technology of tomorrow, and helping Britain’s economy achieve clean growth, benefiting not just consumers, but the planet, too.