Smart meters – addressing modern energy challenges

Smart meter deployments bring new challenges around data management, validation and security.
Published: Tue 01 Aug 2017

Energy companies are advancing mandated smart meter rollouts and many European households will have a smart meter installed before the end of 2020.

The ultimate goal of smart metering is to allow the utility to provide consumers with better visibility into their energy consumption, to enable demand response to reduce peak load and to manage voltage to reduce energy consumption.

These business values now need to be realised and Engerati believes it is absolutely necessary for the utility sector to transform smart metering into an engaging and compelling proposition for customers and to leverage it to deliver grid resilience.

Among the key impact areas of smart metering identified by Engerati are implementing grid intelligence, empowering smart demand response and enabling grid flexibility.

UK experience of smart meters

In an Engerati webinar, Dan Hopkinson, Head of Network and EMI Services at the data transfer organisation ElectraLink, discusses how the business benefits are starting to be enabled in the UK’s smart meter programme.

Hopkinson drills down into three primary benefits of the programme, which is currently at about 8% penetration (although 14% penetration of smart meters): faster and more reliable switching of suppliers by customers, reform of the meter settlement process and the delivery of a smart energy system in the form of a smart grid.

“The key aims are to increase customer energy awareness and engagement and drive energy efficiency and a low carbon economy,” he says, noting that smart meters are the “enabler of the new energy system.”

A major challenge is around the collection and use of data, which underlie all of these activities.

Acceleration of the switching procedure requires more reliable data and processes, with currently no more than about 40% of GB customers “heavily engaged” in switching and data quality issues prevalent.

Possible mandated half-hourly settlement for residential customers could send data flows increasing by several thousand-fold – in the case of ElectraLink’s Data Transfer System from around 23Gb per month to about 3Tb per month.

“We are already seeing the volumes of data across the networks increasing and this will continue and accelerate,” says Hopkinson.

He adds that it comes with both industry and cost implications with for example, the further centralisation of data and the need to update IT systems.

“Data is happening and organisations need to be accelerating the use of that data and driving it into their business to remain differentiated,” he states. “Innovation on the use of data will drive success in the market.”

Smart meter validation challenges

Helder Sousa, Smart Meter Validation Specialist at software service provider Critical Software, reviews the challenges around the validation of smart meters in the GB programme in his part of the presentation.

These arise because smart meters are no longer just measuring devices but also provide functionality and connectivity, resulting in multiple layers and protocols from the network operators and suppliers up to the meter and into the home area network with other connected devices.

“Each one of these needs to be in mind from a validation perspective as they all need to work together,” says Sousa, stressing that validation is a key aspect of any smart meter deployment.

However, he adds that the complexity and large and growing number of scenarios and use cases is such that not all will be able to be tested in advance.

Sousa points to six test areas that must be undertaken in the validation – electronic, user integration, compliance, interoperability and interchangeability and end-to-end business integration.

In addition, he offers a series of tips to simplify the process as much as possible.

Nevertheless, the process is not completely infallible. In response to a question on the challenge of achieving interoperability, Sousa comments that in his view this can be attributed to the relative immaturity of the standards.

“We are dealing with new standards that aren’t well established, which results in different interpretations by different chip and device producers and as a result interoperability may not result.”

Smart meter cybersecurity

In a companion webinar, Emil Gurevitch, Security Expert at Networked Energy Services (NES), and Bo Danielsen, Head of the Smart Metering Department at the Danish utility SEAS-NVE, discuss the challenges of defending smart meter systems from cyberattacks and the development and real-world implementation of an enhanced defence solution.

The reality of such threats is illustrated with Industroyer as the latest in a growing list and demonstrates that there is no room for complacency when it comes to cybersecurity.

“When we implemented our smart metering programme, we realised that we hadn’t paid sufficient attention to security and decided we needed to have an overview of the situation,” says Danielsen referring back to the start of the initiative in 2012.

“We must remember that meter data is not only highly business critical but also personal data that has privacy requirements.”

The upshot of this was a partnership with the Technical University of Denmark as an outside party for academic input and NES as solution provider leading to security enhancements to the latter’s Patagonia platform.

Gurevitch explains that in performing a security risk assessment it is essential to define a relevant threat model and realise attackers have different levels of skill and focus..

“Typically, the most skilled such as a nation state have a single outcome in mind such as a power outage but attack less frequently than those with lower skills who are more focused on ransomware attacks these days,” he says.

“Although they are two very different adversaries, we need to take them both seriously when we talk smart meters and smart grids in general.”

Enhancements included increased protection and detection of both local and remote attacks on smart meters via the network.

These include hardening of the meter’s local and remote attack surfaces with fuzzing, use of an improved network security protocol, stronger authentication, automated key updates and enhanced device isolation.

These enhancements were delivered remotely to all meters via a firmware upgrade.

“It’s about the law and the economy and its highly technical but ultimately, it’s all about trust,” says Danielsen of an enhanced security regime.

“We cannot allow a situation where our customers start to distrust the meters and the data they are being billed on. If hackers came in, it would take a good deal of work to restore the technical aspects but it would be very much harder to restore the trust.”

Related Webinar