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Milan Enlit Europe 2020

29 Oct 2020

Data and interoperability: Preparing the future of our grids

Data and interoperability: Preparing the future of our grids

Flemish utility Fluvius has learned some ‘hard lessons’ about smart metering and interoperability. Claire Volkwyn, Smart Energy International, explores.

During the Enlit Europe episode Interoperability – The cooperative approach, Davey Michiels, project manager for digital metering at Fluvius, shared some of the experiences from the company’s current upgrade of existing metering points.

Fluvius is a multi-utility in the northern part of Belgium which manages 7.3 million connections across a variety of services. For example, the utility has 3.5 million power connections, 3 million natural gas connections and other points to services such as internet connectivity and public lighting. It is also planning on adding water distribution to the services it offers.

In 2019, the company started its smart meter rollout and has identified 6.1 million meters which need to be replaced by 2029.

Michiels says the initial part of the rollout is on an accelerated timeline. “Some 80% of the rollout, or 4.8 million meters, need to be rolled out by 2024. This really is one of the drivers to work towards interoperability.”

Interoperability Fluvius Enlit Europe

Using IDIS specification smart electricity meters and OMS specification smart gas meters, the team at Fluvius felt it was important to choose available standards and specifications. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel ourselves,” Michiels shares. Part of the plan to achieve the goals of the rollout “will come from using reliable, easy to use products. The rollout needs to be efficient operationally for technicians and efficient across the supply chain. This will ensure the handling is as easy as possible for technicians – interchanging devices must not be limited by technical constraints.”

Interoperability is not limited to the lower physical layers and having certain things defined

Michiels highlights that interoperability is a way for Fluvius to achieve its business goals, saying that interoperability in and of itself is not the goal.

“Customers need different types of connections which means different types of meters… single phase, poly phase, with gas connections, without gas connections. Over time, things might change – a customer might purchase an electric vehicle which might increase his electricity consumption and that might influence the type of connection. There is flexibility needed in what we offer to the customer.”

Last but not least – smart meter data is being used for billing and grid management. All this data, regardless of its source, needs to be transparent and flexible so it can be used for both back-end and market systems. In particular, the Fluvius team has focused on the interoperability and interaction between smart electricity meters and smart gas meters. This is a key element of the smart meter rollout. The electricity meter serves as the communication hub towards the headend system using the wireless protocol to link the gas meters.

“We started with IDIS package two,” shares Michiels. “However, Fluvius have decided to continue in future meter rollouts to use IDIS package 3 due to its increased functionality and web centres. On the OMS level, we have decided to utilise version 4.2.1.

Speaking about the challenges of interoperability, Michiels says: “We learned some hard lessons. Interoperability really requires thorough testing. Interoperability is not limited to the lower physical layers and having certain things defined. It is important to have use cases defined on higher level application levels and even above, because the crucial thing is the interoperability between the three building blocks namely a central AMI head-end system, then the electricity meters (IDIS or DLMS based), and then going through the gas MBUS meter (see Figure 2).

“It’s really key that you don’t limit your testing or your setup to technical messages, but it really starts off with a list of use cases. It’s those use cases that determine a sequence of activities which need to be carried out in a correct order. And it’s the sequence which needs to be assured.”

For Fluvius, this is one of the important things in the available conformance testing, both on the IDIS and OMS parts. This testing on the use case level is the key element to verify because it’s what makes the difference, and this will enable a DSO to run its business end-to-end.

Michiels explains: “Then you are able to collect data from electricity meters which in their turn are linked to gas meters and for these use cases, everything is defined. Don’t limit testing or verification to certain messages on the physical layers but really go into the more complex use cases – and indeed they are complex. It’s not an easy task. There is a lot of work that is still ongoing and we have been collaborating for a number of years to read both IDIS and OMS.”

He adds: “For this rollout there are two main extensions we are working on. We will add smart water meters in collaboration with the local Flemish water distribution companies. We are embarking on the first pilot tests, but we will work together in order to realise the rollout synergies.

“There is a choice to keep on using the smart electricity meter as a communication hub. But by continuing to use the smart water meter along with smart electricity and smart gas meters, it means that the end customer really gets a total overview and good customer insight into his total energy consumption including water. And that’s really an important evolution.”

Secondly, Fluvius have also started a collaboration project with the leading DSOs from other Belgian regions, and rollouts have started using the same technical solution. “The goal is to leverage our existing technical solution and to streamline the supply chain.”

Michiels stresses that all these elements together are there to realise their business demands. “This interoperability allows us to extend the solution by adding other types of meters, for instance other electricity meters or even water meters. We also make our supply chain resilient and have an optimal supply and logistics chain. This requires a multi-vendor approach. And that’s really also where interoperability comes into the game.

“Last but not least, using these standards, we are also able to extend our portfolio of services and the asset management of those devices in a more structured way, because it’s really built on a clearly documented set of standards.”

Michiels concludes: “The future is tomorrow. In fact, I’d even say ‘the future is today’. We need to really start preparing the future of our connection grids today.”


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