Smarter Energy: Meters Embrace Their Critical IoT Role

The IoT will extend the connected benefits of the smart grid.

The global focus on energy and water management and conservation is leading to a smart grid that involves more than distribution, automation and monitoring by utility providers. Management systems for in-home and in-building use will help consumers monitor their own usage and adjust behaviors. These systems will eventually regulate automatically by operating during off-peak energy hours, and they will connect to sensors to monitor occupancy, lighting conditions and more. Through the IoT, consumers, manufacturers and utility providers will uncover new ways to manage devices and ultimately conserve resources and save money.


Step One: Two-Way Communication

Millions of meters are already connected today, and the connected grid momentum is growing. However, to obtain its maximum potential, the first step for the smart grid is to transition from mechanical meters to smart electronic meters in order to establish two-way communication between the meter and utility providers.

The adoption rate of smart electrical meters in the US is close to 50 percent, with millions of electrical meters deployed today in the field, connected to the grid and regularly communicating data. Essentially, electrical meters are extending their functions from an energy-measuring device to a two-way communication system.

Modern e-meters must meet certain criteria to play such a critical role in the smart grid and IoT. First, meters need to report energy consumption information from houses and buildings back to the utilities. In the US, the appropriate solution is low-power RF (LPRF) communication using a Sub-1 GHz mesh network. However, depending on the country and the nature of the grid, a wireless solution might not be the best choice. For example, Spain and France employ wired orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) power line communication (PLC) technologies. No one connectivity solution fits all deployments. Making the IoT real requires a larger portfolio that can go from wired to wireless and sometimes combine the two.

Meters as IoT Sensors

Second, the meter needs to deliver useful power consumption information into the home through an in-home display or a gateway. Armed with this information, consumers can adapt energy behavior and lower utility bills. The US and UK use the ZigBee standard in combination with the Smart Energy application profile. Other countries such as Japan are evaluating Sub-1 GHz RF or PLC solutions for greater reach or a combination implementation with both hybrid RF and PLC. In essence, electrical meters are becoming smart sensors for the IoT that communicate both ways, inside and outside homes and buildings, connected to each other in a mesh network while reporting essential energy data to utilities.

Additionally, a smart meter needs to support advanced functions like dynamic pricing, demand response, remote connect and disconnect, network security, over-the-air downloads and post-installation upgrades, so utility providers don’t have to send out technicians to each meter. Wirelessly connected meters can also help providers with predictive maintenance and remote diagnostics to further reduce technician deployments and downtime.

Connecting devices together in buildings and homes is one of the next steps to reach the full benefits of the smart grid. Many innovative solutions and convenient applications are already offered to consumers with more on the horizon. The introduction of dedicated home energy gateways, smart-hub, or energy management systems will greatly accelerate connected grid and IoT benefits for consumers. In parallel, the massive wave of smartphones and tablets is helping accelerate the adoption of communication standards and technologies like Bluetooth Smart, for instance, connecting even more devices every day. Additionally, innovations in sensors, analog power components, microcontrollers, processors and wireless connectivity semiconductors are delivering more energy savings and features through lower power consumption, improved performance and programmability.

Olivier-MonnierOlivier Monnier is director of marketing, Wireless Connectivity Solutions, Texas Instruments, Inc.

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