16. December 2021 By Lars Zimmermann , Georg Benhöfer and Stephen Lorenzen
MsbG Novelle 2021 (2021 amendment to the German Metering Point Operation Act) – clarity for the smart meter rollout?
2021 was a turbulent year. This year’s almost over, yet there’s still much to be discussed alongside the omnipresent topic of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the topic of smart meter rollouts. So before we enter into the new year, we’re taking a look at what lies behind us and outlining which positive resolutions are worth making for metering point operators in 2022.
False start and back to go
With the ruling of the Higher Administrative Court for North Rhine-Westphalia in Münster, Germany (Oberverwaltungsgerichts [OVG] Münster) from 4 March 2021, the original pronouncement by the German Federal Office for Information Security (Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik, BSI) regarding the technical possibility of rolling out smart metering systems was deemed unlawful. The BSI’s pronouncement is of great relevance for metering point operators (MPOs). It’s the green light for smart meter rollout. Once the pronouncement is official, it’s time for the MPOs to begin outfitting metering points with smart metering systems or modern metering equipment. After the industry initially received the green light, the OVG retracted, labelling it as a false start.
In response, the legislator – in close coordination with the unions – got busy working out adjustments to German metering point operation law (Messstellenbetriebsgesetz – MsbG). The resulting amendment to the MsbG entered into force on 27 July 2021. The changes have mostly to do with the exemption period, the establishment of systematic approaches, the legitimation of gradual rollouts and the evaluation of the current state of the technology.
To guarantee the exemption period, Sect. 19 of the German Metering Point Operation Act (Messstellenbetriebsgesetz – MsbG) was amended to include an additional paragraph – specifically for purposes of investment security and to protect previous investments in the smart meter rollout. This paragraph (no. 6) describes the management of smart metering systems that are directly affected by the OVG ruling. Specifically, those that were built (or still will be) as a result of the original pronouncement by the BSI that was deemed unlawful by the OVG. The smart metering systems in this category may continue to be used as long as the BSI makes a subsequent pronouncement and the use of the systems presents no threat of danger. A deadline of 12 months has been set for subsequent certification. By making the appropriate updates, the level of technical sophistication can be raised to meet statutory standards without needing to terminate operations or replace hardware that has already been installed.
Establishment of the systematic approach
A star communication network, like the one mentioned in the MaKO 2020 conference (from the German Marktkommunikation 2020 [Market Communication 2020]) has been approved as a result of the amendments made to Sects. 2, 21 and 60 of the MsbG. In addition, the definition of a smart metering system was broadened. The broadening of the definition includes specific details on the collaborative interaction between the smart meter gateway (SMGW) and the backend IT systems of the MPO and additional market players. The operation of the digital infrastructure can thus be ensured, as the interaction of hardware, software and backend IT systems is made possible by administrators and users. In future, the underlying IT systems will be incorporated so that not all the functionalities will need to be mapped out in the gateway. The changes made to Sect. 60 of the MsbG are now leading to the legitimation of the determinations of the MaKo 2020 conference. This legitimation is achieved by removing the currently elapsed deadline up to which a plausibility check and substitute value formation weren’t permitted to occur in the SMGW. This allows the SMGW to be the starting point for market communication, as the readying of each IT system is now permitted, and the systematic approach is therewith successfully established.
Legitimation of the gradual rollout
The amendments to Sect. 30 of the MsbG have led to the legitimation of the gradual smart meter system rollout. It’s now also officially legal to make pronouncements for individual units or subgroups. That means that the various technical specifications for each individual group charged with the installation can now be addressed. And so begins the rollout period – immediately, for the currently authorised rollout teams, and for the teams that have not yet been authorised by the BSI (and possibly after completion of special requirements), only after they have been granted authorisation.
Annual evaluation of the current state of the technology
The current state of the technology is now being examined more closely in the new Sects. 21(1) and 22(2). As a result of these reforms, the usability, and thereby the pronouncement of smart metering systems, no longer have to be determined based on a yet unachieved scope of functionality.
Positive resolutions for 2022
The amendment of the German metering point operation law addresses the shortage determined by the OVG and provides legal security. MPOs can now leave behind the worries about the uncertainty surrounding the pronouncement regarding smart meter rollouts in the new year. This leaves room for positive resolutions: for 2022, it’s advisable (as regards smart meter rollouts) for MPOs to realise the obligatory installations in such a way that the 10 per cent rollout quota set for 2023 can be met by the target date.