Smart metering – beyond billing to edge intelligence

Smart meters as grid edge intelligence devices can support multiple utility and customer use cases.
Published: Wed 05 Apr 2017

The original intention of smart meters was to improve the frequency and accuracy of meter reading, and perhaps include functionalities such as remote disconnects or prepay/post pay selection, but Moore’s Law has ensured a potential for business value beyond billing from these devices.

Early on in the deployments in the United States, the customer engagement potential of smart meters was recognised. With subsequent technological advances, such as greater intelligence and multiple communications options in smart meters, the array of potential benefits is being expanded on both the customer and utility sides of the meter.

With the large numbers of smart meters in prospect, such as in Europe, the opportunity to realise these benefits is now greater than ever. To do so, Engerati believes it is necessary for utilities to transform smart metering into an engaging and compelling proposition for customers while at the same time leveraging it to deliver grid resilience.

Three key impact areas of smart metering deployment identified by Engerati are empowering demand response, enabling grid flexibility, and, the topic of this article, implementing grid intelligence.

Smart meter grid intelligence

In a recent Engerati poll an overwhelming majority of respondents considered that beyond billing, the greatest potential for smart meters is as a grid edge intelligence node.

This shift, which is happening with technologies such as Itron’s OpenWay Riva platform, is all about building an internet of things, says the company’s VP Global Marketing and Public Affairs, Sharelynn Moore, in an Engerati panel discussion that was held at European Utility Week 2016.

“It’s about taking advantage of the technological advances and the dropping costs which are unlocking new opportunities and making them more accessible,” she says. “Smart metering is no longer about simply automating a meter but the meter becoming a smart sensor in the home as a critical asset for the DSO.”

But the key is in managing and extracting the value from the volumes of data that result from the smart meters and other edge devices.

“The advantage of having the smart meter at the edge is that it can process the data and decide what to send to the central system,” points out Carsten Nielsen, Head Product Management Smart Grid at Kamstrup. “Smart meter data is the commodity and we need to make more value out of it.”

But there are still some challenges to overcome in establishing this new ecosystem, Oliver Jud, Head of Business Development and Partner Management at Landis+Gyr, cautions. These include customer trust around data privacy and security and for example the need for open standards to ensure interoperability and connectivity into customers’ homes.

“As an industry, we need to open up to the new ecosystem and new players emerging in the sector,” he says. “Companies such as ours need to form partnerships to address all these aspects.”

Implementing grid intelligence

When it comes to implementing smart metering as edge intelligence, what do these three experts recommend?

Such projects require a lot of planning and this should include developing an own roadmap and solution and selecting the appropriate partners to implement it, says Moore.

Nielsen suggests that utilities should focus on the business requirements and services that are to be offered and then a solution can be found to fit these.

And Jud advises that as technology cycles are getting shorter and faster, “we all need to get comfortable with that” – and then “things will fall into place.”

Utility experience

What is the utility experience of smart meters as edge intelligence?

Salzburg AG in Austria, one of the early adopters of an edge intelligence solution, was interested in use cases including remote service switch capabilities, on-demand meter reading and network resiliency.

In the US, Avista is focused on improving electric and gas operational efficiencies, enhancing reliability, reducing energy losses, and enhancing customer service and engagement.

On the other hand, in Brazil, with the different market drivers, Eletrobras was interested to tackle not only issues such as the accuracy and timeliness of outage detection but also others such as diversion detection.

“We will be able to address the issues we face with losses and theft in order to improve our operations and recover lost revenues. It will also give us a pathway for future smart grid applications,” said Paulo Lucena, corporate manager for the AMI Project at Eletrobras.

The technology is equally applicable in small island environments, such as Tonga, which is currently generating around half of its electricity from renewables. The South Pacific nation faces significant renewable integration among other challenges.

“As a nation with limited energy resources and a large demand for prepayment based metering, we require a solution that can enable us to better manage our electricity in an efficient manner while meeting our smart grid needs both now and into the future,” says Robert Matthews, Chief Executive at Tonga Power and Light.

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