By Eric Torres
There is an ambition that, by 2022, 70% of all homes in Asia will be connected via smart meters. World Bank estimates India’s energy efficiency potential alone at $11 billion. According to National Ujala Dashboard, nearly 316.2 million LED bulbs were distributed as of November 2018, which resulted in an annual cost savings of `16,435 crore and 3.32 million tonnes of CO2 reduction; a testimony to India’s immense potential in energy efficiency.
The power sector, as per a Deloitte report, is set to adopt and leverage such new age technologies to optimise overall efficiencies. Inclusion of smart metering investments in IPDS, UDAY, other schemes and mandates of Government of India are means to accelerate the pace of this adoption.
The many advantages associated with the use of smart meters—both from consumers and utility companies’ perspective—are drivers of their strong growth. Energy companies can use smart meters to reduce their operational costs considerably, as fewer call-outs are needed, and the accuracy of billing is improved. The latter benefits consumers too—smart meters eliminate the hassle of monthly or quarterly meter readings. In the past, to make it easy for utilities’ personnel to take readings, meters were placed outside of buildings. Smart meters can however be placed anywhere within the house.
Thanks to smart, often near-real-time dashboards, homeowners and renters can keep a closer eye on their energy usage. Last, but certainly not least, the insights provided by the smart meter infrastructure can be used for the creation of an even more customer-centric tariff structure. For example, smart water meters allow the gradation of water consumption, depending on household usage in rented properties, or weather conditions—such as water scarcity in summertime—through their remote-controlled valves. This enables the optimal usage of water resources.
It is imperative that each household adopts technologies like smart meters that will empower the end-consumer to control consumption and costs. Today, smart meters exist for all essential services, from gas and electricity to water and temperature. To use this data effectively, the devices are connected securely to an IoT platform. Via a number of dashboards, users and energy suppliers can access this data and generate usage models, statistics and bills.
Smart meters are just the tip of an IoT infrastructure iceberg. For them to truly live up to their potential, the infrastructure of the individual measuring devices needs to work perfectly with the network, the IoT platform and the applications on top to enable businesses and consumers access the data they collect seamlessly.
Especially in Asian EMEs, the smart meter infrastructure can be held back by the lack of widespread, high quality electric and telecom connectivity. For example, it is difficult to leverage power line communications technology on the smart electric network, which is widely used in developed economies such as Europe. Similarly, using wired telephone lines to transfer smart meter data can be difficult as well. To connect the meters to the IoT platform that they depend on for functioning, they need a robust connection that is not always available. Yet, in many cases, measurement stations are located in cellars or behind thick walls which can cause trouble for conventional mobile networks.
A Long Range Wide Area Network, or LoRaWAN, can be the solution to these problems. This technology has been specifically designed for IoT devices such as smart meters. It uses a number of different frequencies in the ISM-band and SRD products, depending on the region. The network technology only supports a particular data bandwidth per device, but is significantly more energy efficient and reliable. That makes it ideal for an IoT infrastructure that cannot endure outages, such as smart meters. Thanks to the low energy consumption of LoRaWAN, smart meters for gas usage can be installed independent from the main power source—with a battery life of up to 15 years.
LoRaWAN’s range is another significant advantage in building the infrastructure for smart meters. With a range of 4-20 km, depending on building density, this technology can cover incredible distances with comparatively little infrastructure investment.
Just like conventional mobile networks, LoRaWAN is not a single-use infrastructure, specifically built for smart meters. In many cases, such a network is the first step in the creation of a flexible and powerful IoT infrastructure that can be used by many applications like home automation, smart streets lights, and so on.
A key building block for a meaningful smart meter infrastructure is the IoT platform. In a way, this platform forms the core of the system. The data received by the individual measuring devices has to be consolidated, stored and analysed. Here, the system really shows what it can do. Such a platform needs to be accessible, robust, have good analytical capabilities and, above all, ensure the security of any sensitive customer data.
Entry into such an extensive infrastructure market puts many smaller players like regional energy providers and start-ups at a disadvantage. To overcome this barrier and accelerate the adoption of smart metering, open platforms that are accessible for all players to build their own smart metering services on top are being set up. Ready-to-use applications are also provided to leverage data collected from the meters.
For now, smart metering is mainly gathering pace in the energy market, boosting efficiencies and enhancing the customer experience. Once smart meters are underpinned by the right IoT platform, and connected with other solutions in a smart city, they will not only pave way for additional value-added services for the benefit of consumers and businesses but for society as a whole.
The author is Vice-president (IoT), Tata Communications