Testing steps that allow utilities to confidently roll out smart devices

Testing steps that allow utilities to confidently roll out smart devices

In the rapidly developing world of the "connected home," one of the biggest technology rollouts now underway is the smart energy meter. Of all the systems that a utility company can offer its customers, the smart meter is the most direct link between its core business supplying energy and its customers, who want to control their costs while interacting with utility companies on an automated (and much easier) basis.

In all of the machine to machine (M2M) world, the scale of the smart meter rollout (often now mandated by governments and regulators) is one of the largest. Telecoms firm Telefnica, for example, in a report entitled "The smart meter revolution," notes that the installed base of meters will be about 830 million worldwide by 2020, with China alone taking half of this number.

A gateway into the connected home market

In countries such as the UK, supplier British Gas has already installed one million smart meters, adding that its "net promoter score" (a customer loyalty metric) has zoomed up. Consumers feel more in control with detailed reports on their usage (and those of neighboring similar homes) and more engaged with their energy provider for what has been seen previously as a commodity with little added value.

Smart meters are also a gateway into the connected home market. They are paving the way for much more than just basic energy monitoring, as interest grows in smartphone apps for heating controls and other systems such as home security.

5 steps to head off problems

There has been some consumer resistance to smart meters as Telefnica notes, 'vocal consumer groups in Europe and North America cite concerns about meter accuracy and data security." With such massive existing and planned rollouts around the world, it is critical that utility companies ensure that their testing and quality programs are in shape to head off these concerns. In particular:

  • Early system testing is essential. Smart meter systems are a combination of new hardware and software... and hardware issues can be harder to solve than software problems. Testing needs to take into account these differences and, like all good quality planning these days, should be started early in the project.
  • A shared testing repository is best practice. Meter systems can also involve several different suppliers, including special companies set up to manage communications and infrastructure, as in the UK with the Data and Communications Company (DCC). The need for clear communication with all parties is vital, and best practice should be a shared testing repository so all parties have a single view of the project.
  • Test the Big Data challenges too. The huge volume of meters and data generated presents a Big Data challenge. Smart meters can take readings every hour or so. As a result, integration and testing, non-functional performance and operational acceptance testing of billing and business and data analysis suites is essential. Also on the agenda is the provisioning and installation of the meters in homes which will lead to workforce management and operational changes that will affect suppliers and their ability to rollout millions of meters effectively

  • Don't forget consumer acceptance testing. As with applications such as controlling thermostats from smartphones, thorough consumer acceptance testing of the smart meter user interfaces is vital. Test labs can replicate typical home environments as well, which may need allowances for wireless reach variability, location of meters and more.

  • End-to-end testing is the goal. Utility companies too have concerns, not least about the pace of rollouts demanded by governments. As Neil Pennington, smart programme director at UK energy firm RWE npower, said recently: "Testing must be robust end-to-end across industry parties and the DCC, and in live situations. If interoperability is not consistent and systems and processes not failsafe, it risks undermining consumer confidence."

Rigorous, high quality test programs can help allay these concerns.

Source: Smart Grid News

Smart Grid Bulletin April 2018

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