Open standard from Cambridge Consultants to accelerate rollout of smart meters

Cambridge Consultants has launched the Universal Metering Interface (UMI™), a new standard for metering systems. This low-power, low-cost, open communications standard is expected to speed up the rollout of smart meters, and help Europe meet its 2020 climate change targets.

The UMI will enable manufacturers to start rolling out and installing smart-ready meters, ahead of decisions about how they should communicate with the grid, appliances, or other devices. Because the end-goal is so important, UMI is being offered by Cambridge Consultants as an open standard for the metering industry to help quickly resolve the communications debate that is currently delaying the rollout of smart meters. The new standard has already been adopted by Elster, one of the largest meter vendors in Europe.

Smart metering is crucial in the effort to make future energy savings and to tackle climate change. According to the UK’s Energy Saving Trust, smart meters can help consumers reduce their carbon emissions by 5–10%. The European Commission’s 2020 targets require an aggressive schedule for rolling out smart metering technology, but the deployment of these energy-saving devices is currently delayed by an ongoing debate about which communication standards should be adopted.

‘Communications standards are vital to enable smart energy appliances to talk to the meter and the grid, but the RF interfaces which the Home Area Network (HAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN) will use have not yet been selected,’ explains Alistair Morfey, Technology Director at Cambridge Consultants and leader of the company’s smart metering business.

He continues: ‘The UK government committed in May 2009 to install smart meters in all 26 million homes by 2020, but even if rollout begins in 2013, which is now the earliest realistic date, there will need to be at least 70 000 smart meter installations per week. Scale this up across Europe, and it becomes clear that the debate about communications isn’t going to be resolved in time, and that a solution to get things moving is needed.’

UMI is an ultra-low-power, low-cost and highly defined board-to-board wired interface, which will allow standard HAN (e.g. ZigBee or Wireless M-Bus) or WAN (e.g. GPRS) communications modules to be added to any metering product, either during production or in the field, when the communications standard has been agreed.

Because the UMI communications module is entirely separate from the MID-approved (Measuring Instruments Directive) metrology components of the meter, there is no need to re-approve the meter when communications interfaces are changed. This dramatically extends both the life of the meter and its marketability to different regions, and makes it future-proof for emerging standards and retrofits.

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Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure