British Gas Smart Meters – Part 2

Following my mission to get smart meters installed I started to look into the possibility of using ZigBee to gather my energy usage statistics from my new state of the art meters. This, as it seems, would not be as easy as I at first thought.

British Gas ecoMeter

Tantalisingly, on the back of the ecoMeter In Home Display (IHD) supplied with my smart meters, it reads: “ZigBee Certified product (Energy)”. My first thought was that this would be as simple as getting a Smart Energy compatible ZigBee gateway or USB device, associating then with the smart meters ZigBee Home Area network (HAN) and I would then be able to read my consumption stats from my meters.

There are a few ZigBee products available like the Digi ConnectPort X2e and Nexvox Z-201 which I thought I may be able to connect to my smart meter HAN, but reading further into smart meters I found out that the utility company may have to permit new ZigBee devices connecting to the smart meters HAN. I contacted the British Gas to ask whether it would be possible, unfortunately, it would seem, this is not possible due to a number of security restrictions which have been put in place on British Gas’s ‘Phase 3′ smart meter setup. I was fortunate to be able to speak to one of the engineers in British Gas’s smart meter team and he explained some of the security restrictions to me:

  • Software developers at British Gas and Trillaint (the manufacturer of the ZigBee hub) decided to limit the number of devices (MAC addresses) permitted to associate with the hub to 3. Basically only permitting the Electricity Meter, Gas Meter and In Home Display.
  • British Gas have considered the option of adding further MAC addresses for additional ZigBee devices, but there were security concerns that hubs may accidentally (or maliciously) be linked to incorrect smart meters (i.e the neighbours).
  • To further increase security British Gas also change the keys, used to encrypt smart meter traffic, every few months. So even if someone did managed to connect a device to their HAN it would only work up-until the point where the keys are changed.
  • The hub, smart meters and IHD are all managed remotely and if any meter tampering is detected the meters can be switched off remotely.
  • The ecoMeter IHD also has a PIN number required to access the advanced settings preventing unauthorized tweaking.

20130915-164225.jpgIn absence of being able to collect stats via ZigBee, British Gas are apparently trialing a ‘Virtual IHD’, a smartphone app which will display energy usage echoing those on the home ecoMeter. The data for this app however would not be gathered via the home Zigbee network but rather from the British Gas head end systems via the internet.

I am a little disappointed that I can not use ZigBee to access my energy usage from the smart meters especially considering this is one of the larger selling points of smart meters, I hope that this will be a future phase to British Gas’s plans. One of the government document [Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications] states:

Defining a HAN standard in SMETS 2 and the CHTS will provide the opportunity for suppliers and consumers to link devices to the smart metering equipment in the premises. Linking devices to the HAN will be accomplished by ‘pairing’ them to the relevant communications hub. The communications hub will be required to support the linking of supplier-provided smart metering devices and of consumer access devices: these requirements will be defined in the CHTS.

and:

Devices connected locally to the HAN to allow consumers to access their smart metering data are referred to generically as CADs [Consumer Access Devices]. CADs are expected to be available for purchase through retail stores or as part of a service: for example installing a central heating system, re-fitting a kitchen or as part of an energy supply contract.

CADs will only be permitted ‘read-only’ access to data held in smart metering equipment. For security reasons, software in the communications hub (the HAN coordinator) will prevent CADs from updating any data in smart metering equipment or from executing any functional capabilities of a smart meter.

Another government document [Smart meter data access and privacy] states:

There was also support for the use of consumer access devices connected to the Home Area Network (HAN), to enable consumers to access their consumption data in a more bespoke manner. However, consumer groups were concerned that this form of access would be used only by technology-literate consumers. Many industry and technical solutions respondents caveated their support for the HAN by stressing that issues around security and operability still needed to be finalised in the second version of SMETS to provide assurance that devices could be connected in a secure and consumer-friendly way.

So I think there is hope yet, it looks as though there is certainly thought about allowing consumers the ability to connect additional devices (CADs) to the smart meters hub, but these, at least for now, may be trumped by security restrictions (I guess rightly so).

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18 comments
Chris_p_bacon
Chris_p_bacon

I wish I had read this forum before signing up for smart meters. Had them installed a couple of hours ago. The monitor started showing "Network Error 7 as soon as the installer left. The monitor was saying there wasn't a gas meter connected. Derek I too have solar panels, so that is worrying. To top it all off the engineer couldn't get the boiler working when he reconnected the gas, therefore I have no heating or hot water and have to take another day off work tomorrow so BG can come and fix that

jeremfg
jeremfg

I''m wondering who you talked too, but you were fed some erroneous information about how the security works on the Trilliant's Comms Hub and the SEP standard...

But it doesn't change the end result... In the current state, there is no way to tap on this network without BG providing the facility for compliant devices to be added on the HAN.

Believe me, I'd like the same for myself and our own deployment of smart meters where I live!

But don't loose hope... The HAN you have currently support this, so it's only a matter of time until the commodity supplier (aka BG) opens it up for 3rd party devices and home automation hardware that support the SEP standard!

Derek
Derek

I've had BG Smart Meters for around 3 months now and I share the disappointment of those who expected more from them.  Not only is the lack of access to my data is very annoying but also, the IHD, just like current clamp energy monitors (such as the Owl) displays an instantaneous consumption value which does not compensate for the direction of current flow in my electricity supply cable from the grid.  Consequently when my solar panel system is exporting more than I am consuming, the display shows the difference as net consumption. On a sunny day, the IHD will scare you into thinking you are using loads of electricity when in fact you are generating and exporting it!  How smart is that? After finally convincing a very nice man on the BG smart meter support line that this was the case, his supervisor confirmed that my observations were correct.

For anyone in the UK with solar panels, this is reason #2 for not jumping to get a smart meter. 

Rob Dobson
Rob Dobson

I found your blog very interesting. It's a shame that this cant be integrated into my existing home automation system as I would like to get accurate details on electricity and gas usage as well as what I output back to the grid from my solar cells. I'm not convinced the OWL monitors I am using are that accurate.... I don't think it would be too hard for British Gas to allow read access via Zigbee, all they would have to do is allow you to add a list of approved MAC addresses via your account in the online site - this would solve the problem of people adding their neighbors devices. They could put a small limit on the number of 3rd party devices - I guess 1 may be enough for most people and if you needed more that 1 device could act a s a proxy. I wonder if you could get into the system by spoofing a MAC address, e.g. turn off the in house monitor, setup a Raspberry Pi running Zigbee and change its MAC address to that of the in house monitor. I guess that probably wont work as the Raspberry Pi wont have the correct encryption keys.....

John Pendleton
John Pendleton

Many thanks for your blog, I had my BG Smart electric meter fitted yesterday, due to a cock up on the admin front they did not do the gas at the same time.( may be Jan before its done) Very interested in the possibility of uploading readings data perhaps to iMeasure which I already use. Still I'll be able to take meter readings off the IHD saves going out in the cold ha ha.

Nick Boyle
Nick Boyle

I see zero benefit of smart meters in the short, mid or long term if there is no HAN access. In fact, this access would give consumers confidence in their suppliers being transparent and open. By opening this up to 3rd parties, a whole industry of bespoke data crunchers could happen, leading the way to innovative answers to our power usage. So, as I see it, none of this will happen and this is costing us £12billion?!

smartofthehome
smartofthehome moderator

@Paul Willis

Hi Paul,

Thanks for this. I did not realise .gov had published a new document.

I have not read it all yet, but the section you have pointed out (4.4) does look promising!


I don't know what pressure UK Government is going to put on the Energy Providers to adhere to these guidelines and open up their Smart Meter HAN's, but I suspect it will be some time yet while they drag their heals (and/or figure out how they are going to implement it).


When it does happen it may open up a whole new area of industry as new range of consumer devices become available and start linking with other in home devices, thermostat, heating lighting etc.


It would be interesting to write (old school pen and paper style) to British Gas enclosing and quoting this section of the document to see what their response may be... I may just do it...



smartofthehome
smartofthehome moderator

@jeremfg  Thanks, indeed it looks like it is simply a case of having to wait patiently for the right commercial pressures to happen.


Out of interest, which facts in this post are erroneous relating to the security of the Trilliants hub? When I wrote this post I had only just started leaning about smart meters and ZigBee (and am still learning today!) and so I would be interested to know which bit is incorrect for the future. Thanks again for the comment.

Jim

James Saunders
James Saunders

Hi Rob, Thanks! I am glad you found this blog of interest. Indeed it would be good if BG could put a system in place where additional 'trusted' MAC(s) could be added to the HAN controller. I hope in time this will come! Unfortunately I don't think spoofing the MAC with a Xbee/Arduino will work because, like you say, you also need the encryption keys (not that I have tried it ;-)). It is a shame but I am actually starting to find my 'smart' meters more restrictive than their older 'dumb' analog cousins.

James Saunders
James Saunders

Hi Kevin, Thank you for these useful links. Indeed the flashing LED is also an option, as it happens I have already written a very similar post to this some while back here: http://www.smartofthehome.com/2013/09/dumb-meters-arduino/ This article describes how you can use the meters ‘pulse’ to calculate energy usage. (The problem is the new Smart Gas meters do not have a pulse of any kind (no counter wheels, flashing LEDs etc)). Thanks again, Jim

James Saunders
James Saunders

Hi John, It sound like you are having exactly the same experience with British Gas as I did. And like you it seemed to take ages after the Electricity meter install for them to sort out the Gas. I have not hear of iMeasure (I will have a quick Google in a minute), I use an iPhone app called "Meter Readings" by Graham Haley - it is a very good app, nice and clean, easy to use, no adverts, import/export facility and supports multiple types of meter. Good luck with the Gas meter install. I'd be interested to hear about your experience with Smart Meters later.

James Saunders
James Saunders

Hi Nick, Thanks for the comment. Indeed it does seem that it will be some time (if ever) before anyone other than the energy companies will benefit from Smart Meters. I do understand this is relatively new technology and there are security/privacy issues to protect but it does seem that, for the time being, there is no interest from the energy companies or government to give the consumers access to their own data. Also your comment about stifling the possibility of opening up smart maters to whole new industries is also a very good point. If they want to encourage us to use less energy then they need to work with others in the technology industry to make it happen. The IHD is a token gesture but I don't think it is making our household use any less gas or electricity and I done find it that easy to understand/use (even for me a techno geek!). At the very least British Gas could make it possible to hook up a computer to the IHD to get the data? I hope one day in the future the smart meters HAN may be opened up... but for now, despite of my fight to get them installed, the only people who are benefiting from my Smart Meters is British Gas.

jeremfg
jeremfg

@smartofthehome @Paul Willis


Yes, this is precisely what's needed. A CAD (Consumer Access Device) would need to be allowed in, allowed to join the zigbee network in a secure way.

You could expect a webpage where you would be asked to input what is called an "Install Code". The hub would then receive the required info (via it's backhaul connection on cellular networks) to allow that particular device in, exchange security keys and establish a secure connection to the HAN (Home Area Network). This is the process known as pairing, the same process that was used to install your smart meters in the first place!


Seeing how the energy suppliers (such as British Gas) are eager to offer this capability to their customer, you can expect Over-The-Air firmware upgrades in a few years that will enable this functionality!

Just be patient, the energy industry might be moving slowly, but it's moving nonetheless ;)

jeremfg
jeremfg

I don't mind discussing some of it with you (privately through emails maybe), but as i'm sure you understand, I can't tell you much more about our product that isn't publicly available or standardized...

Wrong? A limit in the number of devices being based on Mac addresses, how security keys are handled.

And of course it's also incomplete since there are other security measures that you wouldn't know about!

The security requirements are impressive and hard to meet, comparable to banks and such... But it's not surprising since the meters themselves are managing money, especially in prepay mode!

John Pendleton
John Pendleton

Earliest they can come back is towards the end of January, will keep you updated.

James Saunders
James Saunders

Hi John, Good to hear back from you. It really is not the pleasurable experience that British Gas make it out to be in the adverts is it?. I am still a little confused (frustrated) that British Gas will not give me access to my own Smart Meter data. I am sure, in time, it will come (hope). Indeed it did take a while (3 months in fact for me) to start seeing the meter readings from my Smart Meters to start appearing my account Online and iPhone App. As more energy companies start adopting Smart Meters we may start to see some healthy competition.

John Pendleton
John Pendleton

The gas meter was installed as promised on 22 Jan. To date it does not yet show the tariff, or show up on my on line account. BG tell me it can take up to a month. Meanwhile I guess I'll just watch das binkenlights. John