Mark England, CEO, Sentec, explains why future-proofing could make or break the smart meter roll-out.

As announced recently, DECC has made a sensible move in its new technical specifications requiring smart meters to be capable of in-field firmware upgrades. The news has come a little late for some, with British Gas needing to replace around 200,000 smart meters that cannot currently receive system upgrades remotely.

The ability to future-proof smart meters is a critical consideration for those still planning their smart meter roll-out and something we have long been championing. With much fragmentation in the market and until now, little guidance from the government, companies must plan now to avoid costly revisions when the roll-out is in full swing.

Demands on the applications of a smart meters will increase as other technology develops. As such, meters rolled-out in the next few years must have the ability to adapt to changes in application that may happen in ten years’ time, or utilities will find themselves with meters that need to be completely replaced every few years just to keep up.

Those investing in smart meters need to take into account the advances made in metrology methodology, production methods and materials, communications technologies, electronic components, firmware and operating systems.

For utilities without internal knowledge in this area, the best approach may be to work with an experienced technology development partner to provide the technical insight. Utilities should make sure that the partners they select to help them develop their smart meters have enough specialist knowledge to be able to predict applications that may become necessary in future and future-proof the meter accordingly. A great example to follow is the successful update of FreeView decoders and digital TVs in the UK to keep pace with the changing number and use of broadcast digital TV multiplexes.

At the end of the day, consumers will bear the cost of the smart meter roll-out and utilities need to be sure they are getting the best value for money and seeing the benefits that the roll-out will bring. Smart meters need to be upgradeable, future-proofed and suitable for emerging requirements, enabling smarter functionality for the foreseeable future. Consumers need assurance that their suppliers will not have to revisit this rollout for a long time.