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IDIS Association: Interoperability in Review

For IDIS, Jovan Vujasinovic


IDIS Webinar “Overview of Smart Metering Standards (in EU)” – part 1

Ten years ago, the European Commission defined the Third Energy Package and launched the standardization mandate M/441, which enabled the massive rollout in the EU. What is the current state of smart metering in general and what has IDIS Association achieved in standardization so far?

IDIS Association is the leader in smart metering standardization. However, there are challenges to overcome:
•    Different standards in the European states and among manufacturers, utilities, and legislators
•    Certification process
•    Development of a universal standard for the EU market

With a universal standard, the possibilities for innovation are endless. It opens new possibilities for sustainable development and it also enables the future of Smart Cities.


The webinar hosted amazing guests and experts who have influenced the development of European technology and are shaping its future: Mr. Ciril Kafol - network director of Elektro Gorenska, Mr. Milan Kozole - chairman of the technical board DLMS, Mr. Dieter Brunner - former President of the IDIS association, and Mr. Gyözö Kmethy – former President of DLMS user association. The host was Mr. Klemen Belec of Iskraemeco, with moderation from Jovan Vujasinovic.


A universal IDIS Companion Specification: will it make life easier for everyone?


Mr. Kafol believes that having a common standard is a good thing. Both manufacturers and utilities benefit since the standards improve the production and implementation of smart metering devices. However before the mass application of smart metering, there’s a need for a universally applied standard. The situation dictates that professionals develop several criteria for interoperability and smart metering.


For Mr. Brunner, there is no doubt that with a universal standard, both customers and manufacturers profit. Customers get a wider selection of products, whereas manufacturers get to spread their products into other areas and applications.


Mr. Kozole believes that a universal standard is a one with universal adoption. IDIS companion specification may reach that status, as it’s very beneficial to the users. That is good, but it doesn’t solve the problem of how to achieve a universally adopted specification. IDIS slogan “Closing the gap” has a specific meaning. It means that life becomes easier with the integration of technologies. But, it should be such integration that gives users the benefits of reduction in costs and risks. For that, interoperable devices are necessary.



How to achieve a universal standard and why are we still without one


For Mr. Kafol, the primary issue with a standard is the difference in utilities and manufacturers’ priorities. Finding a common ground that is beneficial enough for all parties involved remains an issue. What may be beneficial for manufacturers, may not be beneficial for the utilities.

Mr. Kafol believes that such a decision is in the nature of things since manufacturers want to have a monopoly over a product. Employing a proprietary standard helps the manufacturer to stop the competition from entering the market. Utilities need a standard to achieve interoperability. From the utility side, having more interoperability could lead to greater choice of products and services and to the mass implementation of such devices.


For Mr. Kozole, interoperable devices need to use standards and then use companion specification listed as selections from the standards. The companion specification closest to this definition is IDIS companion specification. Still, that’s not a specification with a universal status. Mr. Kozole believes that the initial adoption of the smart metering standards leads to each country developing its own specification. However, the DLMS COSEM standard became global. The goal is to get more recognition. Unlike 10 years ago, numerous companion specifications are using the DLMS COSEM. Countries like France, Spain, and the UK have their specifications. The problem is those companion specifications and smart meters aren’t interchangeable. More interoperability means more interchangeability of the devices. Thus, Mr. Kozole claims, the development of companion specification with global adoption is the next step. IDIS companion specification has the potential for wider adoption.


This is the greatest dilemma in smart metering for Mr. Brunner, too, and he sees business as the motivation for companies to adopt a common standard. In that way, they can address more business and take a bigger market share. It’s wrong to believe that business profits more with a proprietary standard than with a universal standard. To create an incentive, product development and marketing teams need to influence companies with success stories.

Currently, smart metering devices are in a similar position to the beginning of personal computers and to the insistence on proprietary systems instead of using an open development approach, which made cross-development impossible. IBM was the first to understand that in a given situation, nobody could develop anything for their company. Transition into an open system allowed them to grow and shape personal computers into what they are today. That’s something the smart metering industry is yet to experience. Another thing is to motivate the customers to demand these standards. The manufacturers will follow the standard if they understand there is more business opportunity with following the standard.



What is the role of the European Commission in reaching a single EU standard?


The European Commission proclaimed the M/441 mandate and, according to Mr. Brunner there is no need for a new mandate, but the existing one should be revised. The mandate dictated the smart meter rollout and allowed a lot of input from all parties involved. Countries in Western Europe have been using it, while Eastern Europe remained hesitant. In a sense, it would help if the mandate got reshaped and recalled into the EU. The way to go is ensuring that regulatory bodies in countries understand the regulations and all the benefits of mass adoption of universal companion specification, and helping customers to make the most use out of it. Utilities today understand more about the job of the IDIS Association and the mandate. And the manufacturers get a better insight into what they have to provide to the mandate.


Mr. Kozole claims that at the beginning, the M/441 mandate had a very strong requirement for interoperability. The problem then was that there were already too many standards applied and the interoperability was described on the level of semantic interoperability of the data model. But, if there was a definition for it, there should also be a standard for it. This was then concluded, and it was decided that DLMS COSEM was the standard data model for smart metering. During the practical deployment, the problem was in differing companion specifications which couldn’t't be interchanged.

That leads the mandate to a complicated choice -  to define interoperability as such, as semantic interoperability or seek for exchangeability? The situation didn’t push the mandate further. It was fulfilled in 2012 and put on hold. Even with a finished mandate, there’s still a lot of space for improvement when it comes to smart metering and interoperability.

Mr. Kozole believes that, nevertheless, the previous mandate reached important results. The success of the mandate is in the introduction of standards for smart metering. Now, there’s a need for the development of a universal companion specification that use that standards. For that reason, there’s no need for a new mandate. It’s about a commitment to build interoperable systems and push the companion specification to reach a wider use.


Mr. Kmethy, who was working on the mandate, and had an opportunity to work with many experts in the European Union, explains that the mandate selected the IEC 62056 DLMS/COSEM standard on data model and application layer level and several DLMS/COSEM communication profile standards  (G3PLC, PRIME and others) have been developed. During the work, they realized that each smart metering project requires a number of use cases, and those use cases drive the selection of functions from the COSEM data model. A definition of the set of these use cases has been started but could not be completed due to a lack of experts.  The idea was to define a universal set of use cases from which each utility could choose the ones that suited them. He concludes that it will be a significant step forward if this work is further advanced.


Finally, Mr. Kafol reminds us that ideas for a common standard were specified through the mandate 10 years ago, with the start of the IDIS Association. Now, the IDIS Association is close to reaching the universal standard – universal companion specification. To advance to the next stage, universal companion specification have to be developed for further implementation of the smart metering products and services.




1. The widely adopted DLMS/COSEM standard already enables some degree of interoperability. Now, a universal companion specification is needed to ensure true interoperability, meaning interchangeability, and development of additional services, such as Smart Cities. Such universal companion specification should be a set of several basic specifications and use cases, that can be easily adapted to the specific needs of each country and each specific smart metering project. IDIS is the closest companion specification to achieve that.


2. On regulatory level, The European Commission should revisit the existing M/441 mandate to ensure that regulators in European countries first understand all advantages and benefits for all players in the market, and then implement such universal solution.



Interoperability is a challenge to overcome in order to build smart cities. But, before we return to the future, we should work on the mass implementation of smart metering and interoperability. Interoperability brings greater choice of products and services, which could reduce costs by up to 20%, and increase profit for utilities, as well as for manufacturers!

This opens the possibility for manufacturers to participate in production all over the world, and further the development of services and applications. For consumers, it means better information and greater electricity/costs savings and potential earnings. There is a single challenge to overcome before this becomes possible. That challenge is the mass application of universal companion specification.


Interoperability is the way of the future technology. Be a pioneer. Anyone can be a part of it. 

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