When the Government introduced its plans for the GB Smart Metering Programme, one of the great touted benefits was in giving energy consumers access to their consumption, and the ability for them to make better informed decisions around switching energy suppliers. However, over recent years, the key emphasis of the programme has been on the implementation and rollout of the DCC service (Data Communications Company – the organisation responsible for delivering the data and communications infrastructure to support the GB Smart Metering Programme), with a view to getting the larger energy suppliers and distribution network operators integrated in readiness for when the service becomes live. Unfortunately, the consumer benefits have almost become lost in the noise, and so I’d like to re-visit this subject, with a focus on one particular key aspect of it; the energy comparison site.

The DCC caters for a group of participants who are neither energy suppliers, registration data providers, network operators or meter operators, and are collectively known simply as ‘Other Users’. It is through this role that energy comparison sites, such as USwitch and Gocompare, are supported, with a small number of service requests being made available to them.

So how will energy comparison sites operate within the new DCC world?

First of all, ‘Other Users’ interaction with the DCC is slightly different to that of the energy suppliers, mainly in that they never have a formal relationship with a smart meter, and as such the Smart Metering Key Infrastructure (SMKI) implications are slightly different to that of an Energy Supplier. Without delving into the complexities of this subject, what is important to acknowledge is that energy comparison sites are still bound to the Smart Energy Code (SEC), a code of connection, registration authority policies and procedures (RAPP), security and privacy assessment, and test protocols, albeit for a narrower set of service requests.

Fundamental to an energy comparison site’s interaction with the DCC is the need for them to evidence consumer consent to perform energy consumption readings from their meter. Without such an audit requirement, energy comparison sites could effectively perform meter reads at their leisure without the consumer ever knowing.

In order to support this consent, a ‘Request Customer Identification Number (CIN)’ service request has been developed by the DCC. This enables a consumer to replay from their In-Home Display the generated CIN and for the energy comparison site to tally this with the CIN returned to them as part of the service response. Energy comparison sites are free to develop their own means of consent, however for data privacy audit purposes it makes sense to use one that has been designed with this in mind.

Once the consumer has given consent, the energy comparison site is free to request tariff and energy consumption from their meter, and use this information to provide accurate price comparisons. SMETS2 meters log both daily and half-hourly consumption, so their is great potential to use this information to provide highly accurate price comparisons, particularly as energy suppliers introduce more innovative time-of-use based tariffs.

Probably the biggest consideration for energy comparison sites is, when should they look to operate within the DCC world? Well, the two extreme views would be;

a) immediately following DCC go-live; and
b) not until every home in the UK has a meter.

The answer ultimately needs to lie with the energy comparison site, but given the number of such organisations that exist, wouldn’t having an enhanced offering to support energy consumers who have SMETS2 devices in their homes be a great USP to differentiate them from the competition? After all, it is likely that these consumers will be the ones most eager to capitalise from the benefits of reducing energy usage, and making informed decisions on the most appropriate tariffs.

For forward thinking energy comparison site organisations, maybe now is the time to start considering how they will go about implementing the necessary business change, determining the technology options, and the available service provisions for ensuring plain sailing through the complexities of the DCC User Entry Process.