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UK meters ‘over complex and over priced’

I have been in the metering industry for over 25 years and represent the UK on international standards for bodies concerned with smart metering standards. Contrary to what was said in Sean Davies's article on this subject (July 2012), standards do exist but the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change has chosen to largely ignore them, preferring instead to not specify anything that may be construed as showing bias to any particular technology.

The development of specifications in the UK has focused on embedding as much functionality in meters as possible, resulting in over complexity, added cost and an interoperability nightmare. Other countries such as Korea have rolled out smart meters, based on DLMS/COSEM and ZigBee Smart Energy 1.0, that are able to provide smart grid functionality through smart appliance control making use of data from relatively simple meters. The Netherlands are rolling out with DLMS/COSEM and Wireless M-Bus based on existing IEC/EU standards. These countries have kept the specifications simple, interoperability has been achieved and the smart functionality has been derived through smart use of a small amount of transported data.

The UK specifications by contrast rely on highly complex meters that require huge amounts of data to be transported over the networks and are incapable of providing smart grid demand response/load control functionality except by cutting power to the whole house. All the smart functionality is provided through predefined data items thereby preventing future enhancements without the use of firmware upgrades.

Smart metering for the UK has been made over complex and over priced. It has taken existing metering solutions and tried to add communications without taking advantage of the benefits of communications to move the intelligence to the head end systems and is in danger of not providing any benefits to those who find themselves in fuel poverty. The UK specifications have missed the point - a smart metering system should make smart use of data, through efficient use of communications. The UK has specified a highly complex meter that assumes the communications will fail. 'Smart' should mean making a complex system simple, not a simple system complex.

John Cowburn CEng FIEE

Director, Smart Energy Networks

Mike Dabbs is wise to question the accuracy of electronic electricity meters (Letters, August 2012). Mine reads load correctly, no red flashing light when the consumer unit is off, but the advertised tariff of cheaper electricity all-day Saturday and Sunday has advanced by itself to all-day Monday and Tuesday although both the calendar and clock displays have remained correct.

Geoff Bayley MIET

By email

Current European standards require that, where a meter has a pulse output, under no load conditions it should not emit more than one pulse over a set test period. This period varies according to the meter characteristics but is typically 10-15 minutes.

Previous standards for meters manufactured prior to 2006 had a similar requirement. If the flashing rate is obviously greater than this and the consumer unit is off then either there is a load tapped into the outgoing cables from the meter or the meter is faulty. Suppliers try to discourage customer complaints of faulty meters (many of which are spurious and made so as to avoid paying a valid bill) but ultimately the customer has the right to have a determination of accuracy and fitness for purpose carried out by staff of the National Measurement Office, currently responsible for Legal Metrology Regulation in the UK.

Alan Dick MIET

Chairman, BS Committee PEL/13 (Electricity meters)

I recently had an appointment for a smart meter to be installed. The man came and took one look at the existing meter, which was installed in a small space, in a low cupboard in the hall, and gave up. His excuse was that the supply neutral junction block could have overheated and damaged the insulation. I would have to have it checked by an electrician. I have to get a report, which won't be free. I could have checked it, of course, and know I would find nothing wrong other than removal of a sliver of insulation, which did not expose the neutral conductor. In this day and age, channels must be followed.

Having seen the meter and read the booklet I am just wondering who dreamed up this monstrous waste of time and energy. I totally agree that the ability to read the meter remotely may save the cost of a meter reader. But whose idea was it to have all the whistles and bells? I read my meter every morning, so I know whether I have used an unusual amount and can find out why quite easily.

RJ Richman MIET


I have recently become involved with the reading of a number of domestic single-phase electronic energy meters. The readings obtained so far are very inconsistent and vary from almost no consumption at all to about twice what would be expected on the basis of the known load. In particular, one, which recorded zero consumption during the previous quarter, is now registering again, for no apparent reason.

The load on each is a CFL bulb which is on during the hours of darkness, plus conventional fluorescent tubes illuminated as and when required. Some of the meters also feed a TV distribution amplifier which is permanently on.

Malcolm Blunden MIET

Rochester, Kent

TV’S busy even on standby

I do like Colin Warner's idea of a standby mode that disconnects the mains supply from an appliance (Letters, August 2012). However, in the case of digital televisions, set-top boxes and video recorders, it is necessary for the device to continue to receive programme guide updates and other 'service information' periodically. In fact, it is a requirement of the UK Digital Television specification that a television or set-top box can display accurate, current programme guide information within a given time from the user switching out of standby.

While some video recorders may still control recordings by a simple timer, more use digital start/end event messages to be received from the service information. This allows for late starting of programmes due to live sporting events for example, and avoids the well-known irritation of missing the end of a film because it started late. While your television may be very quiet in standby mode with just a dim red LED illuminated, it might actually be quite busy!

Jayne Gilmour MIET

Caldicot, Wales.

Engineers mean business

I fully agree with Peter Burville's comments about the lack of engineers on the boards of UK companies (Letters, August 2012). I am an investor in two engineering companies, Weir Group and Invensys. The chairmen and chief executives of these companies are chartered accountants. Both are in a spot of bother with concerned shareholders. In my opinion both need input from engineers, particularly Invensys, to avoid further downfall.

As an economic migrant from India, during my working and investing life I have always wondered why British companies are run by lawyers and accountants, unlike India. I have seen how BOC, ICI and Pilkington, as well as many other non-engineering companies like Boots and Cadbury, have been sold to foreigners or gone bust.

Like Lord Davies's recommendation that 25 per cent of board members should be female by 2015, there should be engineering diversity with a similar proportion of engineers on the boards of listed engineering companies.

Sunil Kumar Pal CEng, MIET


IPv6 security

The sidebar on security in Martin Courtney's article on IPv6 (August 2012) unfortunately perpetuates the myth that this important new protocol is encrypted by default. It isn't; the advantage compared to good old IPv4 is that the IP Security (IPsec) protocol was designed at the same time as IPv6, and then retrofitted to IPv4. In fact, the security risks with IPv6 and IPv4 are not all that different. That's good, because it means that a quarter century of experience can immediately be applied to protect IPv6 networks.

We badly need IPv6 to ensure future growth of the network, but nobody should relax their focus on security.

Brian Carpenter MIET


All in the definition

Sean Blair's description of the famous transatlantic Telstar switch-on in 1962 (August 2012) explains the failure of the UK connection as being due to a polarisation filter being fitted the wrong way round at Goonhilly.

At that time I was at Decca Radar Research Labs, and we understood that the mistake was due to the fact that the Americans used a left-handed definition of the orientation of polarisation, while we used right-handed. There was no 'right' or 'wrong'. The French, of course, had simply bought US equipment so their connection worked.

Graham Tarr CEng MIET

By email

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