Smart meters – the most important ‘thing’ in the internet of things (a creation story)

5 mins read
Italgas italgas, italy Smart meters Energy crisis IoT gadgets Asset monitoring Asset tracking Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Radio frequency mesh solutions Cellular technology LTE-M

Smart meters are arguably the most significant technology available if we accept that the planet is experiencing an existential crisis in terms of how energy is produced and consumed and that you cannot manage what you can’t measure. Of course, this is hyperbole, but you get the point. Society needs the tools to track its progress if it is in a race against time to manage the energy mix, change, and protect itself from the end of the world. As long as politicians and businesses are optimistic, daring, and accurate with the data insights that flow from it, the humble smart meter is the tool that will save us all.

Smart meters – the most important 'thing' in the internet of things (a creation  story)

Unraveling the Significance of Smart Meters in the IoT Landscape: Asset Monitoring vs. Asset Tracking

How did we get below, though? And where exactly is this place? What has altered? because meters have been referred to as” smart” for the past 20 years? Why then, in late 2023, are we still writing about them when there seems to be much more interesting IoT gadgets to talk about, like machine vision and augmented reality, or intelligent transportation systems and lights-out factories ( anyone )? The answer to this final query is that the enormous IoT sector is essentially divided into asset monitoring and asset tracking, and that all of this second discipline is covered by metering.

This is true whether the metering is used in standard AMI systems or as an audit function in a variety of other sensors, whether they are connected to climate controls, lighting systems, or the majority of these more imaginative professional IoT process applications. Conventional ( smart ) utility meters, which continue to be by far the largest market for asset monitoring, are the only ones that this report is interested in. It should be noted that the tracking industry emerged from the M2M market concurrently and is also overshadowed by mechanical telematics, its original killer app.

Navigating the IoT Landscape: Automotive vs. Utilities Markets and the Role of Smart Meters in Energy Transition

The director of Orange’s IoT innovation portfolio, Jean-Marc Lafond, makes the distinction and makes a point. Automotive and utilities are” the two great markets” for IoT. And because the objective of electrical is to offer an offer that is global and without borders, they are fundamentally different. Manufacturers of automobiles want it to function in every nation in the same manner. which, of course, is difficult. On the other hand, utilities operate in their own local and regional markets, which presents a unique challenge because the answer may vary greatly from one nation to another.

As we go ( in the report ), we’ll unpick some of this regional market chaos. However, we are even writing about meters because they are the most practical and well-established IoT business applications and because of their crucial role in the global energy transition, which is currently the biggest challenge. What about the initial query,” How did we get these?” Over the past 20 years, US energy tech behemoth Itron has played a key role in the creation myth. Ty Roberts, who has worked for the company for 25 years, has experienced everything, most recently serving as vice president of its network and marketing solutions. He continues the story and keeps us informed. It is a tale that merits telling and complete citation. It works like this:

” When the price of radios decreased, the entire market began perhaps 15 years earlier. utilities could create a business case to remotely read their meters. Additionally, they could connect and disconnect using two-way communications to gather outage and restoration notifications. Electric utilities unexpectedly discovered that they could redeploy field agents, set to go out and read meters on a daily basis, to do different things, and save money from that when you combine those three factors—over-the-air readings, service switching, or service restoration. 

Which meant that the business case, which included installing meters and a network, was profitable in 10 to 20 years. And many utilities received their money up a bit more quickly. At that point, the energy industry—particularly in North America but also in some regions of Europe—started to widely deploy AMI solutions. At that time, almost all of the technology was created with a specific purpose in mind. Because biological was very expensive and there were concerns about how much carriers would support each generation of network technology, it was possible that they would eventually need to replace the radios, which would undermine the business case.

Which prompted the adoption of proprietary radio frequency ( RF ) mesh solutions, particularly in North America and Australia, which were low-cost, resilient, and made to fit the particular utility use cases. But at the time, that was the most common type of architecture. Of course, there are different options out there, including point-to-multipoint, various radio frequency solutions, and some PLC solutions in France, Italy, specifically Spain. However, they have all largely been non-cellular solutions.

The widespread adoption of the same two-way communications for gas and water utilities was something we didn’t see at the time. There are a few causes for this. Power is the primary one. To be able to communicate, these radios need power. Of course, electric meters have power right there, but gas and water networks don’t. The second issue is that gas and water companies frequently lack resources on which to mount network hardware in the field. Simply put, they lack the infrastructure necessary to mount each of these routers, repeaters, and collectors. 

Because they had to solve the power issue and had nowhere to put the assets, the cost of deploying a two-way network has been extremely large for them. And up until fairly recently, the only solution for clever water and gas metering was to install radios that you read on a drive, about once every month or less. Cellular technology has just recently become optimized for battery-powered devices with LTE- M and NB –IoT. As a result of the rollout of those technologies, more gas and water utilities will be able to read their meters over the air using low-power mobile technology.

As for cellular in electricity metering, this is the utility sector, so there isn’t much rush. This is due to the fact that utilities operate on 15 or 20-year cycles. These AMI projects are profitable because they have been in the industry for a while. When these devices are in place, they intentionally avoid touching them if at all possible. Therefore, nothing changes very rapidly. Therefore, utilities who are deploying solutions for the first time must decide which technology to use and must therefore consider that choice for a considerable amount of time.

Having said that, mobile technology is unquestionably becoming a viable technology, especially in the gas and water industries. For the first time, these utilities are developing business cases for two-way AMI. Cellular technology is catching up quickly in gas and water, and we can already see significant volumes it. We are also using wire solutions today on the electrical side. In some regions of the world, that is beginning to move in the direction of mobile technology, but the landscape is also largely made of mesh. However, that will alter. In the upcoming years, perhaps a little longer, we will see much more mobile deployment [for electronic AMI]. The market will transition from typically mobile to largely mesh.

All of this explains everything we need to know about this industry, including its original purpose of providing remote access and control, the hot mess of ( non-cellular ) technology that has emerged in its wake, gas and water metering‘s difficulties in trading power and performance on battery-powered units, and the late rise of low-power cellular IoT as a well-built connectivity and ready-made network solution for all various metreing disciplines. We only need to browse through it one piece at a time; it’s all around.”

How smart meters and RF mesh solutions are changing energy management.  Itron's Ty Roberts explains. | Itron, Inc. posted on the topic | LinkedIn

Matthew Boyle

Matthew Boyle is a distinguished Smart City Consultant, renowned for his expertise in IoT (Internet of Things) and cutting-edge urban technology solutions. With a deep understanding of Smart City initiatives, Matthew excels in leveraging IoT innovations to transform urban landscapes into efficient, sustainable, and connected environments. His strategic insights and hands-on experience in urban planning, data analytics, and IoT implementation make him a trusted expert in the field. Matthew Boyle is your go-to consultant for navigating the complex world of Smart Cities, ensuring seamless integration of IoT technologies, and unlocking the potential of data-driven urban solutions. With his guidance, your city can thrive in the digital age, enhancing quality of life and fostering a sustainable future.

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