Apartment blocks made ready for smart meters

  • January 30, 2024
  • Steve Rogerson

More than 5000 UK apartment block are to be made ready for smart meters thanks to a collaboration between Scottish energy infrastructure company SMS and UK energy supplier collective Alt Han.

Around 100,000 households in the affected apartment blocks in Britain had previously been ineligible for a smart meter due to a combination of network connection issues and a lack of space in meter rooms.

SMS has been working with the regulated collective of UK energy suppliers Alt Han to re-engineer crowded meter rooms, making space for devices that extend the standard network range of smart meters.

Over 100,000 British homeowners and tenants living in shared residential buildings that were at risk of missing out on a smart meter will soon be able to benefit from the technology following a successful pilot project.

The project – delivered by the not-for-profit collective of UK energy suppliers Alt Han, in partnership with appointed meter equipment managers (MEM) including SMS – has demonstrated a way of reengineering meter rooms within apartment blocks so smart meters can be installed alongside special devices designed to boost the range of the home area network (HAN).

In the UK, gas and electricity meters fitted at shared residential buildings such as flats and apartment blocks are often co-located within already crowded meter rooms or utility cupboards where there is insufficient space to replace traditional utility meters with smart meters as well as install the new range-extending devices developed by Alt Han.

In total, it is estimated that around one million British households, or 4% of the housing stock, are affected by connectivity issues whereby the components of the HAN – the meter, in-home device (IHD) and communications hub that comprises a standard smart meter installation – are unable to communicate with each other. This is typically the case in apartment blocks where components must be installed farther apart than the normal HAN range allows.

While a technical option for this broader issue has already been developed by Alt Han, and began to be rolled out to consumers last year, the supplier-led consortium identified that there were more than 5000 shared residential buildings in Great Britain covering over 100,000 households where an addition would be needed to make these properties smart ready due to the lack of space in meter rooms.

SMS was appointed by Alt Han to explore ways of re-engineering the configuration of standard meter rooms found across typical flats and apartments at its specialist energy innovation hub in Bolton, Lancashire. The model was then piloted across 100 residential buildings by SMS and other appointed MEMs during 2023 in collaboration with various energy suppliers, electricity distribution companies, building landlords, homeowners and tenants.

Following the pilot, Alt Han’s energy supplier members have now given the green light to roll out the service that will improve the ability to access smart meters for those living in affected buildings. The service is planned to go live in mid-2024, with SMS as a partner.

This month, regulator Ofgem approved a change proposal to the Retail Energy Code (REC) to allow for commissioning of these works in residential buildings supplied by multiple different energy suppliers, allowing for SMS and other appointed MEMs to deliver this to their customers.

“Without joint action, there had been a significant risk that thousands of customers were going to be left behind in the switch to a smart meter due to crowded meter rooms,” said Tom Woolley, director at SMS (www.sms-plc.com). “Working closely with UK energy suppliers, and through leveraging our well-established metering and technical installation expertise, we’ve been able to innovate a way of ensuring that homeowners or tenants previously impacted by this issue will not miss out on the opportunity for smart meters.”

He said throughout the smart meter rollout, consumer engagement and continual improvement of installation practices had always been critical to its overall success.

“Wherever possible, a coordinated approach across industry stakeholders has always proven invaluable in this regard,” said Woolley. “Going forward, with a third of Britain’s homes still to take up the opportunity of a smart meter, we must continue to collaborate to find ways of improving customer engagement and technology that will ultimately maximise the deployment of installs for the benefit of consumers, and indeed the UK energy system as a whole.”

Paul Cooper, managing director of Alt Han, added: “The crowded meter room pilot has demonstrated that Alt Han can successfully co-ordinate resolution works in meter rooms to enable smart meter installs for customers who would otherwise not be able to access the benefits. We are looking forward to working with energy suppliers and our two regional MEMs to mobilise and run the enduring crowded meter room service.”

Alt Han (althanco.com) devices include the adoption and integration of powerline networking technology manufactured by Landis & Gyr (www.landisgyr.com) to extend the range of a smart meter’s HAN. Powerline networking is a combination of wired and wireless technologies that use existing electrical wiring in a building in tandem with plug-in adapters. The technology is commonly used in homes to boost wifi range.