Smart metering – preparing for end-to-end rollout

Utilities require vendors to stretch the capabilities of their end-to-end smart metering solutions.
Published: Wed 12 Oct 2016

Over the past decade or so, with the global growth of smart metering, there have been significant market changes in the requirements deployments and what is expected of vendors.

“The need for product interoperability and open available standards are now common. However, increasingly vendors are being called on to be the integrator for an end-to-end offering,” Stijn Goerlant, Connexo product manager, Honeywell Home and Building Technologies, told Engerati.

“Our focus as a vendor has become broader and requires us to not only deliver the right products but also the know-how and a solution that grows with the utilities’ needs,” says Goerlant, who brings years of experience to the smart meter space.

The end-to-end solution

Goerlant explains that an end-to-end solution encompasses not just the meters but also other hardware including communication devices as well as the software and platforms to manage and read the meters.

“Ideally, utilities would like an off-the-shelf turnkey solution with the initial lower costs it brings but we find in practice that they want to ‘stretch’ it with individual adaptations to meet local conditions and needs,” he says. “In some cases the local requirements can be quite extensive. For example, meters may be required to follow a common protocol standard but with a data model specifically defined per country. In some countries meters need to be accessible whereas in other countries they shouldn’t be.”

Utilities want to avoid vendor lock-in, being stuck with a proprietary solution, and want the ability to source technologies from multiple vendors. This allows them then to match specific use cases to specific technologies and vendors, future-proofing their investment. One example is the ability for meter firmware updating to take advantage of future technological advances.

“With this in mind, a solution needs to be based on standards and be able to easily connect hardware and software. However it must also have the flexibility to implement the necessary processes and services without increasing complexity towards the end-user,” he says, adding that in his experience, “the majority of projects are perhaps an 80% fit with the standard solution and the remaining 20% requires adaptation to meet the local requirements.”

“But as a result of all these factors, the solutions are growing in complexity and their integration to other back-end systems and management is becoming increasingly harder for utilities to manage on their own.”


The smart meter rollout

As a result, companies such as Honeywell are being called on to a greater extent to act as a project integrator, Goerlant says. While experience usually has been gained by the utility in pilot projects, often this is limited to few use-cases and to certain departments within the utility. In addition, the full range of expertise for a complex, large-scale roll-out isn’t always available in-house and requires a multi-disciplinary team.

“More and more we are being called upon to act as a ‘central advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) provider’, not only to handle necessary activities such as meter shipment and configuration but also, as many projects involve multiple vendors, to integrate these different vendors’ products into a single solution,” he says. “The average AMI rollout impacts various departments across the utility, which requires us to interface with the various business units to integrate the components and provide the necessary consulting services around our solution offering.”

Security is another issue that needs to be assessed and implemented by the central AMI provider. Not only should the solution itself be cyber secure, but the entire supply chain -- from production in the factory to delivery and operation in the field -- needs to be secure. For example, integration with a hardware security model (HSM) and public key infrastructure (PKI) is now becoming a standard requirement for smart meter rollouts.

Smart meter solutions

Honeywell has built on collaborative knowledge gained on many smart metering rollouts to provide its end-to-end, proven, smart metering solution based on ConnexoTM. Connexo is a unified utility intelligence solution that can manage the utility’s entire smart data flow: from device management and multi-vendor/multi-network data collection to scalable data management, all with comprehensive, built-in analytics.

“Honeywell’s Connexo software platform for utilities incorporates the software and processes to support hardware appliances and take maximum advantage of their capabilities,” says Goerlant. “Features include built-in workflows that can be modified as well as intuitive dashboards to reduce the complexities for the operators to the essentials to aid their decision making. We are constantly evolving it to meet the end-to-end solution requirements customers have.”

In conclusion, Goerlant says that with the cost pressures utilities are facing, it is to their advantage to establish long term relationships with vendors that can offer a cost effective approach to a large scale smart metering deployment to support the utility not only in the first one to two years, but over the long haul.

“We take ‘the voice of the customer’ very seriously and are constantly listening to their needs and how we can address them."

For more on this topic, join Engerati’s In Focus programme Smart Metering – End-to-end Rollouts.

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