From AMI to IoT: What lessons for utility deployments?

What has the utility sector learned from smart meter deployments to support Internet of Things platforms? Trilliant’s Ryan Gerbrandt shares his view.
Published: Fri 26 May 2017

In the next five to ten years, some countries within the European Union will begin smart meter replacement cycles.

With more than a decade’s experience of managing advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), distribution system operators can reflect on what went well, what went wrong and how they can apply learnings to a new crop of technologies, says Ryan Gerbrandt, Senior Vice President of Global Solutions at Trilliant.  

It is this wealth of knowledge that makes AMI deployment so valuable for energy companies looking to connect with even a fraction of the 50 billion Internet of Things-connected devices forecast to come online by 2020.

The challenges of managing and monitoring the Industrial Internet of Things are parallel to those of the smart grid era, says Gerbrandt.

First up is connectivity - a subject at the core of Trilliant’s offering - where the architecture needs to be robust and future proof. “Think about how and where you will connect devices of the future,” he advises.

Energy companies should fast forward 15 years and consider what apps, devices and business models might exist and what they might want to unlock.

Security criticality is of course essential and Trilliant observes that a lot is happening at the standards level where robust protection is needed to cover this critical infrastructure.

Interoperability has been an evolutionary process for AMI but systems will eventually align, states Gerbrandt.

Trilliant, which is active in the world’s major smart energy markets, notes that the UK smart meter rollout is “the most complete standards-based implementation that we have seen globally”.

“The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy has clearly laid out a standards framework that vendors and suppliers must follow,” says Gerbrandt.

Managing data - from smart meters to IoT

Smart meter rollouts have also given energy companies an understanding of data collection and analysis.

Energy providers have gone through the rudimentary process of replacing their method of data collection. And the next stage is drawing knowledge from the data and value on the back of it.

Gerbrandt believes the key to deriving value from data analytics is society’s ability to pose the right questions. “We’re in that process with lots of folks thinking about what to ask,” he says.

The mining of data is also changing shape, moving from specific outcomes to raw data-driven. “This is where you’re looking for artificial intelligence to present learnings to you.”

Network monitoring and management

The deployment of smart metering technology has given distribution system operators better eyes on the grid and the monitoring of IoT networks will vastly increase this need.

But with numerous sensors comes complexity and “as power flows become more dynamic,” says Gerbrandt, “energy companies will need to use information for non-traditional purposes by integrating data sources and creating visibility of the entire infrastructure.”

Gerbrandt recommends a “single pane of glass approach where you have total simplicity of use and visibility.”

And with monitoring comes IoT network management. Gerbrandt notes that lessons from smart meter rollouts show that multiple types of technology within the network creates the need for a flexible, expandable platform.

“The development of IoT is empowered by flexibility and can’t be constrained by the network otherwise there is a risk of inhibiting business opportunities.”

The economic benefits of an IoT network is an interesting point, says Gerbrandt. “Ideally, you need to see financial benefits first to warrant credibility in IoT implementations. But at the moment, it’s the reverse - there is a needs-case for smart meters, smart grid and street lighting as opposed to an economic one.”

IoT deployments - world view

From a global perspective, just as each country and region have approached smart grid network deployments in their own way, so they will with IoT rollouts.

In a fully deregulated market as in the UK, Gerbrandt believes the potential of IoT is viewed through a different lens from which Trilliant has seen in other places.

In retail-led markets with competition between suppliers, smart meter deployment is sporadic. One home on a street may have a smart meter while the next may not due to being serviced by a different energy supplier.

In Southeast Asia meanwhile, a different level of regulation is allowing incumbent energy providers to make bigger, bolder moves, notes Gerbrandt.

“We have observed from our work in Malaysia and Vietnam that energy providers are keen to leapfrog stages of developed countries to reach electrification - what they view as a fundamental step to support economic growth.

“There is also a real willingness to share outcomes from pilots and a desire to communicate across the region to move towards good processes.”

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