Since late 2013, we’ve been involved in the Smart Meter Implementation Programme (SMIP) in the UK.
This unprecedented national project will see 53 million gas and electric meters installed across the country and spells a fundamental change for the way we use energy. It’s the biggest infrastructure change Britain has seen since the Second World War!
Not only will the rollout of smart meters be an important part of the UK’s transition to a low-carbon economy, it will help the government meet some of the long-term challenges faced in ensuring an affordable, secure and sustainable energy supply.
As a software development and validation and verification partner for one of the programme’s key players, we gained in-depth knowledge of GBCS, DLMS, Zigbee (SEP and Pro), SMETS2, SMETS1 and MMC DUIS protocols. We also developed the first industry-wide implementation of the GBCS protocol, the GFI tool, and the Parse & Correlate software for the UK programme.
This experience and knowledge placed CRITICAL Software in a unique position: we were able to offer a solution to a prickly problem that arose during the programme.
First, some context…
Many early smart meters were implemented using SMETS1, an initial set of technical standards created by the government for smart meter equipment to conform to. However, in order to make SMETS1 smart meters useable, energy suppliers had to put in place their own data and communications infrastructure arrangements.
When the national network went live, millions of older smart meters were already operating outside of the new infrastructure. With so many non-connecting devices literally talking a different language, the whole programme was at risk.
Not only might customers with older meters find themselves with ‘dumb’ devices, rendering the consumer benefits mostly invalid, it would be harder for them to switch suppliers too.
Operations were in danger of being less efficient and less effective, plus millions of SMETS1 smart meters would likely need to be replaced before the end of their operational lifespan, which would result in big costs.
The industry needed to work out how to guarantee older smart meters would work correctly with the new network. It sounds simple, but the impossibility of this problem had many people somewhat stumped.
When this problem arose, CRITICAL applied our experience to develop a new testing solution. One that solved the riddle and provided a useable answer.
After much design and testing, we built a new tool – the Smart Meter Integrated Test Environment solution, or SMITEn. This tool was designed to give meter manufacturers, energy suppliers, meter leasing companies and test houses/facilities the assurance that their devices will work, before they are connected to the national network.
In technical terms, SMITEn has the ability to run end-to-end testing of smart meters, while managing interactions among multiple systems and components, both real and emulated. It was quite a break-through!
So, what’s this wonder tool made up of? Let’s take a closer look. While we were developing SMITEn, we focused on three key features: simplicity, modularity and automation.
SMITEn has a simple infrastructure setup and it’s easy to deploy, maintain and update. Using the tool is also simple.
By employing a flexible testing approach, results in tests are easily readable, even by non-programmers. There’s considerably less coding and maintenance effort required too. After executing a test, SMITEn provides a report with the outcome of the test - pass or fail. The report contains valuable information and SMITEn also provides logs for in depth analysis.
The tried and tested base architecture for system validation that we designed a while ago is the core basis for SMITEn. It splits the concerns around the System Under Test (SUT), namely the environment, instrumentation, protocol and control areas.
By being modular, SMITEn separates and abstracts the implementation and execution of each component. In layman’s terms, this means the process of switching equivalent components is easy and transparent. Replacing SMITEn's instruments allows the same test to use a real device instead of an emulated one.
SMITEn uses a keyword-driven framework for test script coding and automation. This framework is easy to use, but powerful enough to be an acceptance-level test automation framework. It’s flexible and can be extended through external modules.
This means tests can be easily automated. It’s possible to integrate test script execution into a continuous integration system, which allows for quicker tests, reproducible test results and is less error-prone than executing tests manually.
It was important to us to make SMITEn a viable option for a range of different users. There are many different types of organisations that may find the SMITEn solution an attractive application, including test houses/facilities, meter manufacturers and energy providers. These organisations vary in size, work within different budgets and need different things. That’s why the tool is available in two variants: as a product (software licence) and as a service.
For example, a test house or a large manufacturer with a dedicated test laboratory, where they are testing many meters, might prefer a short issue-to-resolution round trip. They want to quickly be able to replicate issues in their own laboratories and verify fixes. In this case, the best solution is a SMITEn software licence, with extended support for installation, configuration and integration with their wider laboratory software.
In other cases, energy suppliers may require independent testing, or a meter manufacturer might have specific requirements for testing their meters. In these kinds of scenarios, we’ve extended the solution and offer a full service – our Smart Meter Testing as a Service (SMTaaS) option. Customers can send their devices to our lab where we use SMITEn to perform tests using one of our predefined test plans or a customised one, depending on their needs.
Although we use SMITEn for testing smart metering-related components, this tool can be used in other contexts and areas. In theory, if it’s possible to code the behaviour and interaction of a component (hardware or software), then it’s possible to integrate that component as an instrument into SMITEn and use it for testing. The possibilities are pretty exciting!
It's also exciting to know that now the national network is live, our software will continue to provide a secure communications infrastructure between smart meters and energy suppliers.
We’re so pleased to have had the opportunity to be involved with the SMIP and, as a result, apply our expertise to develop tools that support this impressive programme.
Because the SMIP is in place, the benefits will be reaped by businesses, consumers and the planet. Ultimately, along with easier switching, people will be able to see how they use energy and how much it costs, putting them in control and allowing them to make better, more informed choices.
If you liked this post, download our new white paper to examine SMITEn in greater detail or take a look at our case study to learn more about our involvement with the UK Smart Meter Implementation Programme.