Big corporations vie for Smart Grid Data and Communications Company contracts


In the UK domestic sector, data and communications with electric and gas smart meters will be centrally managed by a Data and Communications Company (DCC). The DCC will be responsible for procuring the communications network, including the modules to be incorporated in smart meters.

The DCC will be licensed in 4Q 2012 following a competitive process (due to commence in 2Q 2012). It is expected to begin offering services in 1Q 2014.

DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change) has asked parties interested in supplying IT and communications services to the DCC to notify it by 1 June 2011.

BT has made no secret of its aspirations to provide communications networking for the UK’s smart metering deployment. It has teamed up with Arqiva, Detica and Sensus, and will propose a long-range radio solution (as provided by Sensus’s FlexNet technology), which it believes is the only means of providing ubiquitous coverage.

Meanwhile, Cable & Wireless (C&W) and IBM announced in March 2011 that they are jointly developing the UK Smart Energy Cloud, based on C&W’s communications infrastructure and IBM’s software and middleware. C&W has also partnered with CURRENT to develop a smart metering solution incorporating PRIME PLC technology and CURRENT’s sensors and data analytics software.

Separately, British Gas has reported that it is successfully using public cellular communications to support its smart meter early adopters. Vodafone is the network operator. Zigbee operating in the 2.4 GHz band is used for the home area network (HAN).

First Utility has deployed smart meters using a wide range of communications technologies, including PLC, GPRS, GSM, SMS, PSTN and 868 MHz low power radio. It is also looking into several other radio technologies. Most new installations use SMS or GPRS for communications. External aerials may be added if a meter is in a basement.

Broadband powerline (BPL) technology is being trialled by Scottish Power Energy Networks as part of smart grid trials in the inner city Toxteth area of Liverpool. This includes a pilot to deliver end-user broadband connectivity.

Electricity Northwest is also piloting BPL broadband access in Shap, Cumbria, a village with a population of around 1000. It could extend this technology to over 2.5 million homes and small businesses in future. Partners in the pilot are Gridline Communications, Cable & Wireless, and T-Systems.

With regard to the home area network (HAN), the smart meter will act as the HAN gateway, rather than there being a separate HAN gateway device. Within the framework of the SMIP, a working group has been set up to evaluate HAN technologies. A total of 42 potential technologies have been identified and will be appraised.