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Securing and scaling DCC in 2022

Growing the network by 30% and running a tight ship isn't enough for DCC CTO, Mike Hewitt, in 2022. His bar is set even higher; securing and scaling the network to help deliver the worlds best smart metering infrastructure.

In the first of my CTO technology blogs for 2022, I write about “Secure and Scale” with good reason. It’s the focal point for me and the technology team in 2022.  

As the custodians of critical national infrastructure, our first priority is always to secure the operation of our service.

In 2022 we’ll be doubling down on defending the DCC network. Through proactive monitoring improvements we'll protect against service failures, and our 'always on' monitoring and incident management will secure the network against cyber events. Ongoing bug fixes and change management will continue to build our resilience.

We’ll also be protecting our service operations with proactive capacity management of connectivity, memory, compute and storage elements. These combine to connect the end point in the home (your smart meter) to the provider of your energy, and offer distribution network operators insights to the energy system.

Protecting and enhancing this service operation, ensuring data continues to flow freely through the network, is becoming more and more important as we reach a tipping point in 2022 and operate at scale.

In 2021 we passed the 17 million connected meter mark, supported over 12,000 meter installations a day and passed the 700 million messages a month mark. We have scaled out systems, platforms and people. All of this has taken place in a little over 3 years.

It’s worth remembering that in December 2018 we had less than a million smart meters connected to the DCC network.

Our efforts and focus remains clear. The target set by government to reach 85% of homes by 2024 will see close to 47 million smart meters connected to the DCC over the next 24 months, close to 3x increment in connections. That’s what I call SCALE.

Why do we need to protect the infrastructure and focus on scaling our network?

During 2020 and 2021 we faced a global pandemic which changed the way every person in the UK had to work, yet we continued to scale and deliver our core programmes. During 2021 the energy industry faced unpreceded challenges. The systems put in place across the DCC to ensure continued supply to consumers in the face of supplier failure and the move or change of energy suppliers in the Supplier of Last Resort process worked as planned at scale, under unpreceded demand.

The industry has installed over 7 million smart meters since the start of 2021 despite ongoing engineer challenges during the pandemic. We have seen an unprecedented supply chain challenges, a global semiconductor shortage requiring us to focus on our communications device supply chain to meet supplier targets. We had, and all witnessed in the media, the “Evergreen” container ship impeding global logistics movement and affecting our device supply, another headwind the DCC team has overcome in order to continue to support the smart meter programme.

We could never have anticipated these challenges, but our network and people were resilient enough to withstand them.

As the pace of change accelerates, and the network continues to grow, no doubt we’ll be buffeted by more headwinds. By securing and scaling, we’ll be ready to meet them.

As we step forward into 2022, we have planned the successful completion of all eligible first generation smart meters to DCC, an incredible result delivered through the ingenuity, determination and collaboration of our technology partners, customers and our BEIS and OFGEM stakeholders. We will also deliver the faster more reliable industry switching capability, enabling consumers to change supplier next day as and when the retail energy market returns to a more stable footing.

These milestones alone would be an acceptable target for many organisations; scale from 17 million customers to 26 million customers, introduce a new service, and keep your operations targets.

However, we’re setting our bar even higher, so we ensure net zero targets can be met, underpinned by the best Smart Meter Infrastructure in the world.

This year, we will also focus more effort on evolving our platform. That evolution will see complete end to end DCC system reviews to ensure we deliver on secure and scale. We will also introduce a new LTE communications hub and ensure our Wide Area Network (WAN) partners can offer a service to span connectivity across the 4G, 5G and future xG to minimise any future disruption caused by service sunsetting.

We will review the security infrastructure of the DCC to keep it fit for purpose for future challenges like quantum computing, and ensure our capabilities remain appropriate for a secure Internet of Things (IoT) message platform that underpins a critical national infrastructure asset. We will move on cloud infrastructure strategy, to ensure we scale as required and meet our sustainability targets.

The path to net zero will rely on faster, more granular system data from the DCC.

To enable this, 2022 will see us working on faster energy settlement by suppliers (Market Half Hourly Settlement – MHHS) and supporting the distribution network operators to optimise energy supply with greater use of renewables. As we move from data communication company to more of a data centric company we will enhance the capabilities that drive this transformation.

We are looking to support customers with simpler access to the DCC through self service capabilities and adaptable service interfaces. We will support and enable policy for smart secure EV charging as directed, and ensure the network becomes the secure and capable digital spine of Great Britain’s energy system.

As we return to the new normal, our Northern Powerhouse of technology, security, and operation in Manchester, Brabazon house, will reopen to partners and customers.

Brabazon House is home to our Security and Technical operation centre, the nerve centre of the DCC, and the largest dedicated smart meter test centre in Europe. It will continue to support our protect and scale efforts.

Working closely with customers and meter manufacturers, we will build on our efforts to ensure reliable device testing for current and future smart devices. We’ll build on our electric vehicle (EV) technical trials to enable secure smart EV policy and our Living Pillar carbon capture connection to DCC, demonstrating Secure IoT for future smart cities.

Our innovation team is ready to support those who want help deliver the NetZero Journey. An example I’m particularly interested in is our work in supporting the development of Hydrogen meters ready for future policy implementation.

To finish – as CTO at Smart DCC, if you’ve taken the time to read to this point, then my call to action to you is, “Don’t be a bystander but stand side by side and help the UK on the journey to Net Carbon Zero. Here’s how you could get involved:

  • As a consumer get your smart meter and get behind the smart energy revolution;
  • As an energy supplier, develop the products leveraging the smart meter system to benefit consumers and let me know how the DCC can help;
  • As a distribution network operator, use the smart meter data collected by our network to optimise our grid and the use of renewables and green energy solutions;
  • As a DCC supplier, help us and our customers innovate while delivering resilience and scale;
  • As a DCC employee, be proud of what we do, keep focused on our priorities and ask the simple question every day ‘what can we do better’?
  • If you’re a student, an academic or an innovator the DCC has an open door – help us help you bring the future products our country needs. Build on our STEM programme with partners at primary level, work with the BEIS Smart Meter in Schools programme or as a partner university, together, lets make homes truly smart:
  • And lastly if you are interested in not being a bystander to climate change and play an active part in helping our country reach its Net Zero target, then come and join the DCC and leave you finger prints on a company that is connecting Britain, so we can all lead smarter, greener lives.

Meet The Author

Mike Hewitt

Chief Technology Officer

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