In the week of Connected Britain 2019, Total Telecom caught up with Fabienne Dischamps, Chief Strategy & Product Management Officer at Smart DCC to find out more about the role that Smart DCC is playing in the roll-out of smart meters in the UK, the partnerships that are enabling smart meter deployment and she also shared her predictions for the next 12 months. See below for the full interview.

Can you tell us a little about Smart DCC?

Smart DCC are the builders and maintainers of the technology that powers the energy smart meter roll-out across Great Britain. While our customers, the energy companies, install the meters, we operate the secure nationwide network that is set to connect every home and small business in Britain digitally, which will help enable the lower carbon economy the country needs. Currently, more than 1 million meters are connected to our network, and this is expanding rapidly.

Who are the key partners that Smart DCC is working with? 

Our customers include energy suppliers, network operators and other authorised service users. Our technology securely connects them wirelessly to smart meters in homes and small businesses right across Britain. We work incredibly closely to ensure our network and technology integrate smoothly with their systems. 

We rely on our service providers for several elements of our network. CGI is our service provider for data. For communications services, our core providers are Arqiva in the North, and Telefónica in the South and Central regions.

We work closely with Government to deliver this critical national infrastructure programme. We were granted the licence for this project in 2013 by what is now called the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). We’re also a key delivery partner for Ofgem’s “faster, more reliable switching” programme.

What have been Smart DCC’s key achievements over the past 12 months? What’s next for 2019?

Just last month we connected our 1 millionth smart meter, and our network is expanding very quickly with 20 meters being installed every minute of the day. Throughout this year we’ll continue to improve the way we work with partners, and refine our technology so we can help accelerate this roll-out.

Starting this year we’re taking on the technical challenge of getting the previous generation of smart meters retrofitted so they can communicate on our secure network. This will be done with an over-the-air software update. Most first-generation meters would lose their smart functionality if you switched suppliers, and this update will bring these “dormant” meters onto our network, making them smart again, as well as interoperable for when the consumer next wants to switch energy supplier.

What are the main barriers to the smart meter roll-out in the UK?

At full scale, the DCC network will provide greater reach than mobile, digital terrestrial TV and superfast broadband. To reach every home and connect every meter, including first-generation, will require some really clever technology. We’re already coming up with the solutions to do this, and extensively testing hundreds of technology combinations. It’s really impressive to see the industry tackling these challenges head on, and we have no doubt that every home and small business in Britain will be able to join this smart energy revolution.

Is there sufficient spectrum available to support the at-scale roll-out of smart meter technologies?
Yes. We have a number of different communications techniques that use several different bits of spectrum in really clever, efficient ways. Firstly, to communicate from our network to the communication hubs in people’s homes we use current mobile and radio communications technology, specifically using Telefonica and Arqiva networks. The data transferred by these communication hubs is cleverly scheduled and pretty small by modern standards, so spectrum isn’t really an issue.
In the home we  communicate wirelessly between the communications hub and the meters. We use industry standards , namely Zigbee, and these home area wireless networks are now live in more than 1,1 million homes.
What do you see as the key opportunities for the UK resulting from the roll-out of high-capacity digital infrastructure? 
Of course, smart meters will help people save energy and money. They will be able to time their energy spend when it’s the greenest and the cheapest, doing their bit for the planet and being good for their own pocket too.
But there is much more potential for this technology. Smart meters will digitise the country’s energy system, laying the groundwork for a smarter grid. This home-by-home insight will give the UK the ability to better plan the use and deployment of renewables, helping meet the nation’s zero carbon targets. If you have solar panels on your home, our network could allow you to sell your excess energy to your neighbours or to the grid. Similarly, it could allow electric vehicles’ batteries to power homes and balance demand during peak times. For this to work, our primary focus is on getting every home and small business connected to our network.
Beyond the benefits of energy smart meters for a low carbon economy, this secure nationwide network could be re-used for further public good, providing data or connecting sensors for applications that require reach and security of communications. This could be measuring ground humidity for precision agriculture, detecting water leakages early or providing social care to vulnerable people in their home.
What trends do you expect to see shaping the industry over the next 6 – 12 months?
The growth or renewables, decarbonisation of heat and electric vehicles will shape the future of the energy industry. These are big macro-economic trends that are here to stay. But closer to home, energy suppliers are just beginning to take advantage of meter readings by the half hour, and this will allow really engaged consumers to sign up for new hourly tariffs that are even more competitively priced. This would enable somebody with a home battery to buy power to charge up only at its cheapest and greenest. The energy storage and smart home technology already exists, and it will only get cheaper and easier to use. 
About Connected Britain
Across a jam-packed 2 days, Connected Britain 2019 brought together over 1400 connectivity professionals from across the UK. Connected Britain will return to London on 18th and 19th June 2020, head to the event website to keep up to date with next year’s event.