More than a billion data-packets were sent over the UK's national smart meter network in July, a level of traffic that's expected to increase five-fold over the next four years.
The Data Communications Company (DCC), which operates the UK's smart metering network and links meters in homes and small businesses with their respective energy suppliers, said it will have to increase its working costs and operational capacity to keep pace with exceptional demand.
The DCC is investing in centralised data caching, more efficiently prioritised traffic, and widespread compression. The predicted increase in traffic will be driven in part by physical expansion, but also through changes to the frequency of readings.
In the past financial year, 8.5 million meters were added to the network, for a total of 21 million at time of writing. Around 7.6 billion messages (the DCC’s term for data packets) were sent over this period, largely comprised of meter readings but also including supplier requests, prepayment credit top-ups, and updates to tariffs and firmware. They vary in size from a few tens of bytes, to around one megabyte.
These are all sent through the bespoke internet of things (IoT) network created by the DCC, with the most sensitive information such as customer data encrypted and only given on a need-to-know basis to suppliers, network operators.
At present, some smart meters send readings every day whilst others provide readings at more frequent intervals, to supply the grid with more accurate insight into demand. The DCC states that future meters will be able to send readings every 30 minutes, an interval that they term Market-wide Half-Hourly Settlement (MHHS).
The DCC contends that they only facilitate the movement of messages through the network, and cannot see individual data.
The more up-to-date the readings are, the more consumers and businesses can make use of smart tariffs. Smart meter data is especially important in the face of the cost of living crisis, helping to keep prices accurate to consumers while providing energy suppliers with accurate information on data efficiency and demand for renewable energy.
DCC CEO Angus Flett said:
“The DCC network now relays in a single day the amount of data it was carrying in a whole month two years ago. That’s a great thing for Britain, which needs this data for the insights we require to transition away from fossil fuels.
“We’ve now surpassed 1 billion messages sent across our network in a month. We expect a further 500% increase in traffic over the next few years, as the network more than doubles in size, accommodating extra demand like half-hourly meter readings.
“The DCC network was designed for these traffic increases, and our five-year roadmap shows how we’ll be working with our customers and service providers to ensure we’re ready for this high energy data future. Our mission is to make Britain more connected, so we can all lead smarter, greener lives.”
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