Open Search Partner with DCC

Operating at scale – a CTO perspective

July 2022 marked yet another milestone for DCC with our network carrying more than 1 billion messages in a month for the first time. To put that into context, we’re now processing the same amount of data in one day as we processed in a whole month two years ago.

More than 21 million meters are now connected. This includes SMETS1 devices previously classed as dormant that we continue to migrate onto the DCC network, thereby restoring their smart functionality. Our energy supply industry partners continue to install more than 14,000 meters each and every working day to deliver smart meter capability to new consumers. The DCC’s core network now securely connects more than 13 million homes and a staggering 54 million devices.

In July we also launched the Central Switching Service (CSS) on behalf of industry, a really important development commissioned by Ofgem which will support next-day switching for consumers – reducing the time taken to switch from weeks to eventually a day. July also marked a personal milestone for me as I completed my second year as the Chief Technology Officer at the DCC.

In July alone we carried 1 billion messages; but this doesn’t provide a full view of everything the DCC is doing to ensure Britain leads the way in the digitisation of its energy system. In the same month, the network also carried 1.6 billion device alerts that provide supplementary system information for our system users, including alerts like power outages to provide information to the Distribution Network Operators (DNOs), plus 86m DCC alerts which provide our Technical Operations Centre with health checks on one of the largest IoT networks in the UK. Adding all this network traffic together gives us a volume closer to 3 billion messages per month.

The numbers provide a checkpoint for me and the team, bringing into focus the great work the DCC is doing with its partners and customers across the energy industry, and giving us a reason to celebrate as we continue to operate and improve the digital spine of Britain’s energy infrastructure.

As well as reviewing progress to date, I’m really focused on the road ahead. My team and I challenge ourselves to look out towards the horizon of what else we’ll need to do to ensure the smart meter system remains at the forefront of service capability. In the short term, until 2025, our priority is to ensure the infrastructure we operate on behalf of the energy industry remains secure and scalable. We operate an extremely secure network that connects smart meters to authorised system users, and by 2025 there’s a target to connect every home in Britain: this will be more than 30 million homes and small businesses, 56 million meters and 120 million connected devices. All that is likely to generate more than 20 billion messages (system alerts, device alerts, DCC alerts) across the network each and every month.

A network which securely connects every home is a valuable asset to UK PLC. Part of the challenge the technology function faces, as custodians of the asset on behalf of every consumer, is ensuring that it remains secure, functional and relevant over the life of the connected devices (‘custodians’ is a term I use to focus my team on our role as the accountable design authority). The life of our communications devices is 15 years, so just imagine taking a walk around your house and finding a device from 2007 that you would want to rely on in 2022! As an example, the very first iPhone was released in 2007 (15 years ago) and very few, if any, of us still have a working first generation 2G iPhone…

Our Technology team is supporting the DCC platform as it scales up. Much of our effort is focused on testing all system changes to ensure everything across our ecosystem operates to the required system standards.

We work closely with meter manufacturers, communications hub suppliers, network suppliers like Arqiva, Virgin Media O2, Vodafone and core system providers to test every planned change. Our expert team test against more than 100,000 device model combinations. This supports industry and ensures that the 14,000 devices they deploy every day can connect to the network, and that every one of the 54 million devices already connected remain online and secure. Our system architects evaluate every technology change, working with our operations and delivery colleagues, to keep the system secure and running efficiently.

At the same time, we’re looking to the future and designing our next communications hub (which could be needed to span 4G, 5G and into 6G and beyond) building on the Long Term Evolution Standards (LTE). We’re actively working with the major Hyperscale Infrastructure providers like AWS, Microsoft and Google, to understand their long-term product roadmaps, tools and capabilities for the cloud infrastructure that we’ll be implementing to support our scale from 2025 to 2033 and beyond.

We work with organisations at the forefront of cybersecurity to ensure the DCC network remains secure – we’re currently evaluating the future impact of quantum capabilities on our security model to ensure we remain ‘secure by design’.

As the custodians of the country’s smart metering infrastructure, we also have to challenge ourselves with ‘what’s next’ - such as market wide half hourly settlement (MHHS), and a greater granularity of data from every device helping to drive settlement efficiency as we transition to a renewables-based generation infrastructure. We will ensure, if required, that we can support the deployment of secure EV domestic charging, micro-generation and domestic assets (such as heat pumps and domestic batteries). These are all components of a future ‘liquid’ grid which responds dynamically to changing demand and generation. The role of the DNOs – the distribution network operators – is evolving, requiring greater granularity of system data and ultimately generating more messages to be carried by the DCC platform.

To close this month’s update from the DCC’s Technology function, I’ll return to our focus: ‘secure and scale’. We’re scaling at pace, as you can see from the numbers above (do also check the DCC’s dashboards). We’re supporting energy suppliers (electric and gas) and distribution network operators; we’re upgrading our network every month to ensure it meets our licence obligation and technology needs, and we’re designing a network that supports the roll-out of 14,000 devices every day as part of Britain’s drive to connect every home to the smart meter network. This is critical to support the decarbonisation of the UK, leveraging the digital spine of the domestic energy system, to provide dynamic, secure services delivering a sustainable and connected energy system and ultimately delivering the best value to consumers across a challenging energy market.

Meet the author

Mike Hewitt

Chief Technology Officer

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