Smart meters collect and transfer a lot of data about consumer behaviour and therefore require robust data protection
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Several hundred pages of technical guidelines in the new digitisation law are designed to ensure that smart meters are secured against hacker attacks, while also putting the consumer firmly in control of what happens to the data. Called “privacy by design”, the system requires consumers to sign off on enabling a “fine-grained data transmission” that can be marketed by third-party vendors.
The actual transmission of the data occurs via the gateway, a separate communications device that sits behind the digital counter. “The gateway acts as a firewall,” explains Stephan Kohzer, a spokesperson at the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), the government agency charged with certifying the new gateway systems.
The data is then passed on to a distribution service operator (DSO), power companies that operate at the low-voltage delivery portion of the electricity network. Typically, DSOs interface with consumer households and businesses. They have longstanding customer relationships and are thought to be in the best position to sell new smart home services. Yet they also manage energy generation and distribution and in the new digitisation law all three functions have now been unbundled for the first time.
On the metering side, they'll be selling new services into the home, while on the other they will continue to manage grid congestion, a responsibility they share with transmission service operators (TSOs) that manage the high-voltage part of the network.
It's the metering company – formerly tucked inside the larger DSO structure – which will now take on the gateway manager responsibility of managing centralised data hubs.
“Everyone will get the same data at the same time,” says Thomas Rutting, head of Vattenfall Metering Germany. Vattenfall will manage the gateway for Berlin and Rutting says that means TSOs and DSOs will have the data, ensuring proper grid balancing at high-, medium- and low-voltages.
The data will also be passed on to new players to innovate their way into the market. Among this group are third-party metering companies, direct marketers, data aggregators, virtual power plant operators and storage companies.
The so-called “star-shaped” communications model will ensure equal access, as overseen by a select number of DSOs acting in their capacities as neutral “gateway administrators”, says Rutting.
Key to the system is data access. With consumer protections in place and “coarse” data turned into something that's actionable, a new digital energy market could soon take form. From the data, business models will be developed. One could make suggestions to improve efficiency or replace customer equipment, for example. Or a rooftop solar panel offer could be packaged together with a free smart meter giveaway.
Paul-Vincent Abs, managing director of E.ON Metering, says competition in smart meter deployment and fast data management is the exceptional part of the German system. “That's totally different,” says Abs, “and therefore I think this [digitisation] law is a game-changer.”
This is just one part of a 4-part briefing on German Renewables;
German Renewables Briefing Part 2: Smart meters and the rise of the ‘prosumer’
German Renewables Briefing 3: Germany scrambles to bring digital infrastructure up to scratch