Feeds

Smart metering will disrupt weather forecasts, warns Met Office

You'll get a Sky box in charge of your house anyway

The next step in data security

The Met Office has warned that Ofcom's planned deregulation of radio spectrum for Home Area Networking kit risks disrupting radar-based weather forecasts.

The airwave regulator's recent public consultation into opening up new spectrum garnered overwhelming industry support for releasing the proposed bandwidths into the public domain, so 'leccy companies can use them to manage our consumption.

Ofcom proposes handing 870-876MHz and 915-921MHz into unlicensed use, an idea overwhelmingly supported by all the companies planning to sell smart meters and RFID kit using those bands to enable remote control/monitoring of our appliances by power utilities.

Even the mobile network operators, who run the viable competition, are cautiously welcoming the proposals, perhaps aware they'll not prevent their release.

This leaves only the 100-per-cent-reliable Meteorological Office to raise a flag, pointing out that blanketing the UK in smart meters will make it impossible to see incoming rainfall.

The Met uses Doppler radar between 915 and 917MHz to "see" rain clouds, based on differing reflections which would be very susceptible to interference from the mesh networks of smart meters the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) expects to see blanketing the country by 2019.

That band properly belongs to the Ministry of Defence, as does 870-872MHz, but the MoD has indicated it's happy to hand them over - so the Met is girding its loins for a fight as its response to the consultation shows (pdf, short and to the point).

Other responses are hugely supportive of the idea, pointing out that DECC's figures reckon that not deploying smart meters in every UK home (by 2019) will cost consumers £6.3bn over 18 years*, with utilities being forced to spend an additional £9.07bn over the same period. Clearly there's a financial imperative to release the spectrum as quickly as possible and hand over control of our central heating, white goods etc to our local utility, who will apparently manage them more effectively than we do ourselves.

Looking a little closer at those figures (pdf, very dry) we see that £6.26bn of that saving will come from us using less electricity once we can see how much we're consuming. A disappointing £43m will be saved though micro-generation (from all those subsidised solar panels on the Scillies), but we can't help wondering if a forced reduction in consumption can really be considered a "saving" as such.

Utilities, meanwhile, will save £3.37bn by not having to read meters, and £1.46bn in carbon tax, while spending £794m less on generating electricity.

Not that the numbers are plucked from the air, as the analyst response sponsored by Silver Spring Networks (a leading player in smart metering) tells us (pdf, long and aspirational, but has pictures). Trials conducted in the US across 50,000 homes, who let the utility tweak their thermostats, reduced consumption at peak times by between eleven and thirty-three per cent across 98 per cent of properties - the remaining two per cent apparently overriding the imposed restrictions, as is their right. Multiply that number up by the UK population and we get savings of £6.75bn in the 18 years following deployment.

It's all about "demand side management" or "demand response management" depending on which euphemism one prefers, but basically letting the electricity companies adjust our thermostats and switch off our washing machines when everyone puts the kettle on in the advert break, and it's the prime motivation behind smart metering (and the release of suitable radio spectrum), though not the only one.

Silver Spring's response also points out that smart meters can monitor the incoming voltage, preventing oversupply, and the bands won't just be used for smart meters: networks monitoring bush fires, such as those laying waste to Scotland last month, could also make very effective use of them. Awesense has also been creating mesh networks to identify electricity theft and leakage using the upper band.

It's not Ofcom's role to decide if Smart Meters are a good idea, or a pointless and perhaps rather worrying political gesture. Rather, Ofcom's job is to provide enough radio spectrum for the government of the day to do as it wishes. To that end Ofcom will probably release both bands early, looking to deploy equipment in Spring next year, and that's to be applauded - even if some of the applications to which it's put might seem a bit misguided. ®

Bootnote

*So, assuming 60 million UK consumers that would be a saving of £5 per head per year in exchange for having spy gear and remote controlled switches reporting to the energy companies (and anyone with access to their records) installed throughout all our homes.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.