November 19, 2019

Smart meters for polar bears

Words by Paul Linnane, Head of EMI

Thanks to some excellent primary school teachers, my daughter continually talks about saving the polar bears.  Everything she does from turning lights off at home to walking rather than driving to school each morning, is currently based on this goal – saving the polar bears. But even though my daughter makes this connection, what do polar bears have to do with smart meters? The answer is more complex than ‘they are both rarer than they should be.’

When our head of social media tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to write a blog on ElectraLink’s work supporting the smart meter roll-out, my first thought was if a picture paints 1,000 words, how many words would each chart count as?

The Energy Market Insight (EMI) team at ElectraLink use the data underpinning the energy market to support a variety of market activities. Everything we do is underpinned by data and visualisations, not words, so this would be significantly more challenging for me, but here goes.

ElectraLink, Capgemini and smart meters

ElectraLink has a copy of all the data transferred across the Data Transfer Service (DTS) since 2012. This unique data lake includes Meter Point Administration Numbers (MPANs), addresses, switching data, metering, household and business consumption.

In mid-spring 2019, ElectraLink was approached by Capgemini to provide a dataset which contained the MPAN, address, metering type and meter location for every property in the country in support of the Alternative Home Area Network (AltHAN) project.

Capgemini, on behalf of the smart metering program, are endeavoring to identify properties that may require an alternative networking solution to support the roll-out of smart metering. This is occasionally required in properties such as tower blocks and flats where the household is too far from the meter to get a stable HAN connection.

Looking to disrupt and improve on the way this task might normally be completed, Capgemini are using data from various sources, as well as machine learning, to narrow down the number of properties that should be surveyed for an AltHAN arrangement. Combining the datasets ElectraLink holds, we created a new dataset for every household and small business in the UK, specifically to support Capgemini’s analytics.

By combining this data with housing stock and gas data, the algorithms designed by Capgemini would predict which properties might need an alternative solution, greatly reducing the number of site visits required and therefore reducing the overall cost of the project (not to mention savings on carbon emissions from fewer van trips to properties throughout the UK).

GDPR for good

However, in an environment with increased concerns around data privacy and the introduction of GDPR, how is ElectraLink able to provide this data to Capgemini?

GDPR does not necessarily restrict the sharing of personal data without consent. Specific situations such as sharing data for a public good are permitted. Given that the processing of this data will allow for the energy industry as a whole to reduce the total cost of the smart roll-out program for everyone, this was one of those situations. ElectraLink’s governance, overseen by a user group of industry participants, ensures that in instances like this when data is requested from ElectraLink, it can be provided as long as there is a clear benefit to the energy market and, ultimately, the wider energy-consuming public. It was wholly agreed that this step towards reducing costs to consumers and carbon emissions is an example of using energy consumers data to benefit consumers .

Back to polar bears

Those of us lucky enough to be working in the energy industry now have an opportunity to make an incremental yet effective impact as we move towards Net Zero by 2050. The roll-out of smart metering is an important component of this target and will lead to further innovation and enable new, unique propositions in the decarbonisation mission.

And while it is only a very small piece of the puzzle, with this collaborative work across the industry I can say to my daughter that by working with Capgemini and the AltHAN project, I am doing a little bit to help the polar bears.