Smart appliance standards are needed to unlock the potential for domestic demand-side response (DSR) to help balance the power grid and lower energy bills for consumers.

That’s according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which has launched a consultation on its plans to introduce mandatory standards for smart appliances in homes.

“A smart appliance enables consumers to participate in demand-side response and is a key element of the transition to a smart energy system,” the consultation states.

“We consider that standards for smart appliances would both support the uptake and use of these devices and protect consumers from potential risks.”

The document outlines four key functions which smart appliance standards would need to fulfil: interoperability; grid-stability and cyber-security; data privacy; and consumer protection.

Interoperability

Interoperability will be “essential” for a competitive market to develop so that consumers can freely choose between different brands without fear their appliances will not be able to communicate with each other.

According to the consultation, the call for evidence for the government and Ofgem’s smart systems and flexibility plan showed a clear preference for open standards which would allow the market to develop more freely without being constrained to one communication method.

BEIS also expresses a preference for a “common data model”, whereby instructions are the same regardless of the technological language used, over a “common communication protocol”, where appliances would all speak the same language. It says the former would offer greater flexibility and choice to market participants.

Common standards to ensure interoperability should cover communications in “all directions to and from devices, up to the DSR operator’s system”, because all of these communications channels would be necessary for the smart operation of appliances.

Grid-stability and cyber-security

Smart appliances could support grid-stability by shifting consumption away from periods of high demand when electricity is more expensive and towards periods of low demand when electricity is cheaper.

“However, if all appliances do this at once, this has the potential to create a sudden spike or drop in electricity consumption by appliances which could cause issues in the smooth operation of the electricity networks,” the consultation warns.

Potential solutions include staggering pricing signals or randomising the responses of appliances.

The consultation says robust cyber protection will be vital to minimise risks to the stability of the power grid as a whole and also to prevent unauthorised parties taking control of individual appliances, with potentially deadly consequences.

BEIS supports a “secure by design” approach which would see protections built into the design of smart appliances from the ground up, for example, by minimising the potential access points for hackers.

It says software and firmware updates should be regular and reliable, ideally taking place automatically with minimal input from the user. Those with access to the devices should be monitored and receive security training. There should be regular cyber security assessments, such as penetration testing, and appropriate methods in place for dealing with any vulnerabilities that emerge.

In the event of a cyber-attack appliances should still be usable and therefore feature manual override controls.

Data privacy

The consultation states consumers must be in control of any data created by their appliances which is shared with third parties. There must be clear consent procedures to ensure they are able to make informed decisions. BEIS says it expects the existing regulations and standards on data privacy to be sufficient to cover the smart appliance sector for the time being.

Consumer protection

Smart appliances are already covered by existing consumer protection laws and guidelines and the government says it will work with stakeholders to ensure they are applied properly. It says smart appliances should be straightforward to use and therefore sold in a “plug and play” mode wherever possible.

BEIS highlights the potential distribution impacts of smart appliances, which could leave those consumers who cannot afford the upfront costs of the appliances paying more for their energy. To increase accessibility, the application of standards will “support cost reduction by setting a uniform minimum functionality whilst ensuring consumer protection”.

The consultation notes that responses to the call for evidence for the smart systems and flexibility plan indicated general concern among stakeholders over the potential safety risks of smart appliances, in particular regarding wet appliances and fire risks. It says the newly created Office for Product Safety and Standards is working with stakeholders to ensure the safety of smart appliances.

The government has invited feedback on the four key functions detailed in the consultation and on its plans to mandate standards for smart appliances instead of relying on voluntary standards. The deadline for responses is 8 June 2018.