25 January 2024 Innovation, Metering, Smart Meter Rollout

SMS responds to Ofgem’s open letter on the roll out of smart meters for Prepayment and Radio Teleswitch (RTS) customers

Ofgem’s open letter to UK energy suppliers (19th January 2024) expressed its concerns over the pace of the smart meter rollout for prepayment meter (PPM) customers, as well as those relying on Radio Teleswitch (RTS) technology. It highlighted how, while more than 60% of homes in the UK have now been fitted with a smart meter, the current installation rate for PPM customers is fewer than 50% for some large suppliers. For RTS customers, meanwhile, some suppliers have replaced less than 10% of their portfolio with smart.

Having noted the slower progress with these meter technologies, as a leading independent Meter Equipment Manager (MEM) and Meter Asset Provider (MAP), over the past 18 months SMS has invested significantly in various solutions to address these challenges, supporting industry with the rollout of smart meters especially for these vulnerable customer segments.

Supporting the replacement of Radio Teleswitch technology

In the area of assisting RTS replacement, our investment includes building a dedicated test lab for RTS at our Energy Innovation Hub in Bolton, Lancashire. This unique facility – which is free to use for energy suppliers – offers the ability to test and prove smart meter solutions for such complex metering setups posed by RTS.

Since opening this dedicated test area of our Innovation Hub, we’ve had almost every UK energy supplier visit the facility, test their internal systems against the metering combinations required, and even helped shape the shared direction of this metering solution to ensure industry adopts a relatively common approach across these challenging installations.

We have also offered, via the RTS Working Group led by EUK, for SMS to take on the operational responsibility of the rollout, combining a single workforce across multiple energy suppliers to achieve huge efficiencies in tackling the replacement of RTS. This is a significant opportunity that has yet to come to fruition, however.

Operationally, SMS is well stocked with the appropriate metering solutions for this responsibility, and we are ready to commit our national engineering workforce to support the replacement of RTS meters, which are predominantly fitted within households in hard to reach rural areas.

SMS therefore supports the ongoing discussions about extending the technology beyond its end date of 31 March 2024 into mid-2025, to ensure that the more than 900,000 households across GB who still rely on RTS can receive a smart meter before the legacy RTS service expires.

A smart solution for PPM customers

SMS has also invested significantly in solutions that will support energy suppliers with ramping up their smart meter installations for pre-payment customers, many of whom – as Ofgem notes – are ‘consumers from a lower socioeconomic background or in vulnerable situations.’

These services are two-fold. On one hand – with many PPM customers in Britain living in shared residential buildings such as social housing located within flats and apartment blocks – SMS has been working closely with the regulated, not-for-profit collective of UK energy suppliers, Alt HAN, to develop a solution that addresses technical installation challenges that commonly affect such premises.

In total, it is estimated that around 1 million British households (or 4% of the housing stock) are affected by connectivity issues whereby the components of the Home Area Network – the meter, in-home device (IHD), and communications hub that comprises a standard smart meter installation – are unable to communicate with each other. This is typically the case in apartment blocks where components must be installed farther apart than the normal HAN range allows.

While a technical solution for this broader issue has already been successfully developed by Alt HAN, and began to be rolled out to consumers last year, the supplier-led consortium identified that there were more than 5,000 shared residential buildings in Great Britain (over 100,000 households) where an additional solution would be needed to make these properties “smart ready” due to the lack of space in meter rooms.

During 2023, SMS was appointed ALT Han to explore ways of re-engineering the configuration of standard meter rooms to overcome this issue, with a successful pilot project culminating in energy suppliers greenlighting the new service – with SMS taken forward as a key partner – to be rolled out in mid-2024.

Smart Meter Health

Finally, to additionally support energy suppliers with the rollout of smart prepayment meters beyond standard installation and MEM services, we recently launched our Smart Meter Health service. Smart Meter Health combines test evidence (from our meter interoperability and interchangeability test labs) with the capability of n3rgy (our DCC adapter SaaS platform) in order to provide energy suppliers a comprehensive assessment of their entire meter stock, helping inform the compliance and expected performance of both credit and prepayment portfolios.

This new SaaS based solution digitises the whole process, enabling suppliers to have a digital platform that manages the metering portfolio, advises of priority meter combinations to address, how to address them, and provides access to the firmware images as required.

Continued industry collaboration

Through our substantial investment in this broad package of solutions aimed at tackling the installation challenges faced by suppliers across both RTS and PPM technologies, SMS’s commitment to this cause could not be more evident, placing ourselves at the forefront of  the industry when it comes to supporting stakeholders with rollout issues and ultimately protecting end-consumers in vulnerable situations.

Going forward, with a third of Britain’s homes still to take up the opportunity of a smart meter, we must continue to collaborate as an industry to find ways of improving customer engagement and technical solutions that will ultimately maximise the deployment of installs for the benefit of consumers, and indeed the UK energy system as a whole.

Delivering meter innovation

Our Energy innovation Hub in Bolton, Lancashire, provides a bank of 200+ live meters for energy suppliers and other industry partners, providing assurance, device combination proving, and over-the-air (OTA) testing in a range of mock real-life scenarios and environments.