Intelligent metering systems, known as smart meters, have an important role to play in supporting the transition to green energy in Germany. The official rollout and installation of the new electricity meters began a year ago. Where are we now?

The move to renewable energies and digitalization go hand in hand.

Companies that supply sustainable energy rely on innovative technologies, and meter technology in the electricity generation sector has undergone some fundamental changes amid the transition to green energy, particularly as a result of the Act on the Digitalization of the Energy Transition. Nevertheless, because power generation from renewable energies like wind and solar is both decentralized and volatile, it is not as easy to balance the load on the electricity grid as it used to be. In the future, information needs to be shared if we are to dynamically control and reconcile the different demands of electricity generation, consumption and storage. This information exchange will take place with the aid of smart meters.

Smart meters – what exactly are they?

Smart meters comprise a digital counter – the modern way of metering – and a communication unit – the smart meter gateway.

Smart Meter explained

The latter transmits data to and from the measuring device. It enables data on feed-in, consumption and the status of the network to be collected so that corrective measures can be taken where necessary to ensure continuity of supply. But the purpose of smart meters is not just to help us manage the electricity grid; they also add value for consumers. One of their benefits is that they make it possible to offer variable tariffs based on the time of day, grid load levels or a consumption threshold. Not only that, but the readings can help consumers control and manage their consumption more effectively. 

More information:

Detailed information about the acquisition of measured data is available in the tariff use cases published by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) (available in German only).

Step by step to smart metering systems

The Act on the Digitization of the Energy Transition specified a rollout period of 15 years for smart metering systems. The official rollout began in February 2020 when the BSI published its “Market analysis to determine the technical possibility of installing smart meter systems according to § 30 of the Metering Point Operation Act (MsbG)” (available in German only). At that time, three manufacturers were able to provide the necessary functions while also meeting the BSI’s stringent security requirements for smart meter gateways (SMGW). Smart meters will initially be installed in homes that consume 6,000 kWh of electricity or more annually. A smart meter installation will be optional for consumers who use less.

of electricity or more annually

Update:

The Higher Administrative Court of North Rhine-Westphalia has provisionally halted the obligation to install smart metering systems following an action brought by a company in Aachen. The reason given was that the general ruling establishing the technical possibility of equipping metering points with smart metering systems was likely to be unlawful, as the legal requirements were not met. This is attributed to a deficit in Annex VII of the BSI’s Technical Guideline TR-03109-1, as it falls short of the interoperability requirements of the Metering Point Operation Act (MsbG) and, in addition, did not come about properly with consultation of the Gateway Standardization Committee. The Cologne Administrative Court will issue a final decision on the matter.

Source: https://www.ovg.nrw.de/behoerde/presse/pressemitteilungen/18_210305/index.php

Challenges of the smart meter rollout

Connecting measuring devices to a communication network immediately presents a number of challenges:

  • How should the connection be made? When dealing with critical infrastructure such as a power grid, there are special requirements in terms of reliability and blackout resilience of the communication links, i.e. their ability to keep working during a power failure.
  • How do we prevent unauthorized access to meters by third parties? Meter manipulation and fraud can be commercially damaging – but our national security also relies on having a reliable electricity supply. A prolonged and widespread power blackout can have drastic consequences for the whole of society. This scenario was vividly described by Marc Elsberg in his novel “Blackout”.
  • How durable are these products – are the devices able to cope with the demands of a smart grid over the long term? After all, technology changes fast and this is likely to affect both how smart meters operate and how they connect to the communication network (e.g. 5G).

 

Operating on the 450 MHz frequency band

The BSI intends to guarantee IT security by means of certifications. However, the other two questions have not yet been conclusively clarified. For example, the communications technology will ideally operate on the 450 MHz frequency band, which is well suited to building a reliable, nationwide network. Unfortunately, we are not yet able to estimate how long it will take to fully develop this network. Since the rollout of smart metering systems has already begun, however, we will have to use other technologies until that time.

 

Using a combination of technologies

In addition to the 450 MHz band, other technologies such as LTE, broadband powerline and fiber optics are also available, all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages. Until a dedicated network is available, we will therefore need to use a combination of technologies. We will be happy to keep you up to date on further developments in our blog – and, of course, the TÜV Rheinland experts are always available to answer your questions. You can find out more about “critical infrastructure” at https://www.tuv.com/germany/de/lp/academy-lifecare/kritische-infrastrukturen/ (available in German only)

 

Author

Carlo Kammler

Carlo Kammler

Network Consulting & Planning

Carlo Kammler works in the Network Consulting & Planning department, where he is heavily involved with infrastructure-related matters. The graduate economist (M.Sc.) advises both the public sector and companies in this respect. He has been with TÜV Rheinland since 2016 and manages projects – from smart grids to infrastructure atlases – at national and international level.

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