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Summary

In its recent publication Smart Meters, Smart Data, Smart Growth, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) set out its vision for smart energy. DECC expects the smart meter data generated through the deployment of connectivity in every British home to transform the market for energy services. Although we applaud DECC’s strategy, we encourage it to accelerate moves to allow homeowners to connect devices without the participation of a third party. Its current plan for the home area network (HAN) places control in the hands of the energy industry and not British homeowners, potentially stifling competition in a nascent market.

DECC creates a platform for a mass smart home market, but restricts competition

The creation of wireless HANs is central to DECC’s smart meter strategy. All of the 53 million smart meters that will be deployed between 2016 and 2020 will be equipped with HAN functionality, based on ZigBee’s Smart Energy Profile (SEP).

The most basic functionality supported by the HAN (as defined by the DECC) is the passing of consumption data from electricity and gas smart meters to an in-home display (IHD) unit, which will be offered to every British household. However, the platform is expected to do far more than this. Consumers will be able to pair other SEP-compatible devices to the network. These devices could simply stream consumption data via a Wi-Fi router, but more complex functionality is expected in the future. Home automation hubs, smart appliances, smart lighting systems, and more could use the HAN, independent of utility companies’ hardware (such as the IHD).

Disappointingly, consumers can currently only pair a smart device to the HAN through a “DCC (Data Communications Company) User,” which will typically be a homeowner’s energy supplier. We believe that this policy limits users’ choice, restricts competition within the smart home, and will hinder the pace at which smart home technologies will develop. DECC has committed to introducing a means of allowing a consumer to pair a smart device using a function on their smart electricity meter. Unfortunately, this functionality is still in the design phase, and it will only be available “at the earliest opportunity” during the main smart meter deployment.

DECC’s wireless HAN strategy creates a platform upon which a mass smart home market can be built. For instance, it has removed a sizeable barrier by creating a de facto standard for HAN connectivity. All smart home vendors targeting the British market can now develop compatible, interoperable technologies. However, we believe that it is critical that users can pair devices to their HAN without the permission of a third party. DECC and ZigBee should redouble their efforts in this area to ensure that this functionality is available before the main rollout begins.

Appendix

Further reading

“Energy suppliers with the worst customer service invest the least in smart energy technology,” IT0002-000315 (January 2015)

“British utilities’ lack of customer focus will be their undoing,” IT0002-000303 (July 2014)

Author

Stuart Ravens, Principal Analyst, Utilities Technology

stuart.ravens@ovum.com

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