Several of the UK’s energy suppliers, including British Gas, E.ON, Utilita, SSE and nPower, amongst others, disagree with the government’s proposals on testing methods for a national smart metering scheme worth £11 billion.

Responses to an initial consultation from the Data Communications Company - the organisation created by the government for the purpose of deploying the smart meters to the entirety of the UK by 2020, reveal how out of tune the specifications are with industry standards.

All UK households should have smart meters by 2020 says Government ©iStock Mr Pliskin

Paying for costly network connection in advance, “unfair” staggered rollouts for different companies and confusing regional differences were the main bugbears for the likes of British Gas, E.ON and SSE, amongst others. 

For example, one guideline from the DCC suggested that energy firms should pay for network connection six months in advance for testing. In response, British Gas' smart metering project managers said: “Why six months in advance? We will be paying for six months of bandwidth and cost for no reason if we don't want to participate in the Pre UIT testing. Don't want to pay for a connection we don't need, until we need it.”

Utility E.ON was similarly unimpressed with the proposals in the interface test approach document. In a letter to the Department for Energy and Climate Change it said: “We do not agree with a number of the proposals in the Interface Test Approach document. In addition there are a number of proposals with a lack of clarity and detail to enable a firm statement of agreement to be made."

'High risk'

Companies claimed the testing approach proposed by the government posed a "high risk" as they do not include test stubs. These are programs that simulate software components behaviour. Stubs provide answers to calls made during the testm not responding to anything outside what is programmed purely for that test. 

E.On said: “We are particularly concerned that the overall testing timeline has been condensed as far as possible with the overlap of User Acceptance Testing and Interface testing. The further overlapping of Solution Testing with Interface testing and User Acceptance Testing, we believe adds too much risk.

“We are also concerned at the proposals to introduce real devices into the User Entry Process Tests part way through testing. From our Foundation experience we are concerned that introducing different devices part way through a test phase could cause undue delays.

EDF Energy wrote: “We do not agree with the current approach to potentially compress and parallel run testing phases. In any testing environment such an approach is not good industry practice and introduces a high risk. Should the risk become issues, all concerned, including consumers, pay in terms of time and financial costs.

“The use of test stubs will always be a contentious issue, but we understand the position the DCC is in with circumstances beyond its control. However some mitigation towards the test stub approach would be for the DCC to provide its evidence that test stubs will deliver to the desired levels of assurance as required in the Smart Energy Code [the guidelines for the smart meter initiative] as soon as possible, rather than waiting until the decision to use stubs has to be made.”

Widespread criticism

The scheme has been widely criticsed by MPs as well as utility firms, who believe the costly project will face delays, incurring extra costs.

Delays in legislation and technology specification for the devices mean that some of the devices installed by energy firms are redundant, and will have to be replaced, to the cost of consumers.

The government last week published the latest set of proposals before they become law in six months’ time. Energy firms will have until September 1 to voice any concerns with the guidelines they will have to follow as part of the rollout.

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