The United Kingdom government has ambitious smart grid plans. Now it has detailed plans to support the rollout of more than 50 million gas and electricity meters to 30 million homes and businesses by 2020.

On Thursday, the U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change released a series of documents regarding the smart meter rollout, covering everything from technical specifications for meters to who owns the data. The upgrade of the nation's metering infrastructure is meant to deliver £7 billion ($11 billion) in net benefits.

The new documents provide clarity for energy companies and their customers, and will help ensure a relatively smooth deployment, given the large amount of devices to be installed in just five years.

“We want to ensure that the benefits of the program are maximized and that consumers are protected. We are consulting on a series of measures such as how consumers should be engaged and how data can be accessed and protected,” Charles Hendry MP, Minister of State for Energy, said in introductory comments to the decision. “These steps underline our determination to put consumers’ interests at the heart of the program."

Customers were central to the decision, from the requirement that every meter be equipped to communicate with the home area network (HAN) to how data can be used. The energy supplier will be able to use hourly data for billing and regulatory needs. But if suppliers want to access half-hour data for marketing or other needs, customers will have to opt in. Any third party that wants access to the data to run energy efficiency or controls programs will also need permission. In the U.K., the customer will clearly own the data.

In the competitive U.K. market, energy suppliers cannot use the smart meter installation visit (they’re inside the home) to upsell customers. Instead, the utilities must use the time to educate customers about how to use an in-home device, simple energy saving tips and how a smart meter works.

Technical specifications are also being finalized for the meters themselves, ensuring that no matter what the vendor, each meter will be able to connect with the nationwide communications platform that will be built and that it will be able to interface with communications networks inside of the home. The decision on communication protocols inside of the home has not been set.

Within the technical specifications will also be security standards, which include rules about data encryption. The current iteration of those rules has been established, but the government noted that they will be upgraded to include more robust certification processes.

For other companies that will work to make the smart meter network work for customers and utilities, there will be a Smart Energy Code that will set out the rules about how the different parties will work together.

In news reports in the U.K., utilities, meter manufacturers and consumer advocates welcomed the set of rules, which will be finalized in June.

Some energy suppliers, like British Gas, had already started meter rollouts but had recently halted them, awaiting clarity from the government about the smart meter plans. Although the government is not mandating meters be installed before 2014, the program released this week should give confidence to all parties to see the action really pick up toward the end of 2012 and into 2013.

Tags: ami, smart meter, uk, united kingdom