Smart meters

Looking for smart users

By Claire Marchand

Smart Grids, smart cities and smart buildings rely on the proper and reliable transmission, distribution and use of energy resources. This requires usage data to be exchanged between the power utilities and end users in real time to ensure proper and stable supply. So-called smart meters that use a communications network to send electricity consumption data to utilities for

Smart meter (Photo: E-Talk, CBC – SALU, Khairpur Smart meter (Photo: E-Talk, CBC – SALU, Khairpur)

Measuring electricity consumption

Soon after electricity was introduced on a commercial basis it became necessary for utilities to measure their customers' consumption (in kWh ) in order to be able to bill them. This meant the introduction of specially-designed meters, as early as the 1890s. Most meters in use today, whether electromechanical or electronic, fulfil the same purpose, although some significant improvements have been made. These include variable rate options, which allow utilities to charge customers according to their consumption during peak and off-peak (cheaper tariff) hours, or automatic reading that transfers consumption and other data to the utilities without having to resort to physical reading. A drawback of these meters is that customers are usually billed according to estimates based on past or predicted consumption.

Modernizing the grid infrastructure

There is now an urgent need to enhance existing or install new infrastructure for every part of the energy delivery system as well as to understand consumption patterns better. Reasons lie with an increase of electricity consumption in developed and developing nations, a growing concern regarding the security of energy access, the impact of fossil fuels on our climate, and the need to integrate more sustainable sources of energy. Smart Grids are the key to addressing many of these challenges. They will provide the automation necessary to manage all the resources by improving usage, minimizing waste and delivering real-time information to both providers and consumers. Smart meters, which electronically track and transmit real-time electricity consumption data and additional information to utilities, form an essential part of grid modernization in general and of Smart Grids in particular.

Two-way communication

Smart meters have many more features than traditional electric meters, in particular in-built two-way communication. They can transmit detailed information on usage constantly, and can also receive information remotely from utilities.

The two-way communication option is important for the future as many users become so-called "prosumers", that is both energy producers (for instance, via home photovoltaic installations) and consumers. Smart meters will help measure the amount of power these prosumers feed back into the grid.

Smart meters will also prove valuable as the share of intermittent renewable energies in our general energy mix increases and as EVs (electric vehicles) are introduced on a large scale.
 In addition they offer real time record and billing based on actual consumption rather than on estimates.

Smart meters can also be used to offer prepaid services, as many customers have become used to "pay-as-you-go" mobile phone credit and regard it as an efficient way of cost control. Prepaid solutions based on smart metering technology are the ideal solution for students or employees who spend long periods away from home and therefore may find long-term contracts impractical. "Eventually, you will be able to buy electricity credit using the ATM, just like you do for your mobile," says Steve Cunningham, CEO for UK and Ireland of Landis+Gyr, a major industry player in metering solutions for electricity, gas, heat/cold and water measurement.

Finding smart users

Introducing Smart Grid solutions and equipment such as smart meters may sometimes prove difficult. Domestic users, unlike commercial or industrial users, often cannot see the benefits of smart meters. Some may even be downright hostile towards them, believing that smart meters might be used to spy on them or to switch off their appliances.

A September 2013 study for Smart Grid Canada found that filling the “knowledge gap” helped consumers become much more receptive to Smart Grid concepts.

Some countries, for example Sweden, have already achieved 100% penetration of smart electric meters in homes (in June 2009) through compulsory legislation. Others have chosen to encourage rather than force consumers to convert to smart meters.

In essence, smart meters will help utilities lower their costs by eliminating the need to physically check meters. Some utilities now charge monthly fees when employees have to come to the home to check a meter as a measure to motivate consumers to adopt remote metering.

Huge and growing global market

As many countries move to introduce Smart Grids the global market for smart meters is experiencing a dramatic growth. A 2011 MarketsandMarkets report forecast that the global smart meter market would expand from USD 4 380 million in 2010 to 15 260 million in 2016, growing at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 20.8% over the period.

The trend extends to many countries. In the US smart meter penetration reached close to 25% by the end of 2011 and the target is to install 65 million additional units by the end of 2015. The UK announced plans to introduce 30 million smart meters at a cost of USD 18 billion starting in 2015. Germany, Spain and France, among others, have similar plans.

In Asia, Zpryme research and consulting estimates that the total installed base of smart meters in the region will exceed 467 million in 2020.

IEC smart involvement

Many IEC TCs (Technical Committees) and SCs (Subcommittees) are involved in Smart Grid applications. With specific regard to smart metering, two IEC TCs are the main proponents: TC 13: Electrical energy measurement and control, which notably develops "Standards in the field of a.c. and d.c. electrical energy measurement and control, for smart metering equipment and systems forming part of smart grids", and TC 57: Power systems management and associated information exchange.

The accuracy of electric meters is obviously extremely important and is a parameter which manufacturers are keen to stress. Major meter producers, such as Landis+Gyr or GE use their compliance with the IEC 62056 series of International Standards as a commercial argument in their technical and marketing literature to promote the accuracy of their products. Other IEC TC 13 series of International Standards (IEC 62052, IEC 62053, IEC 62054 and IEC 62058) concern additional aspects relevant for smart meter features, such as tariff and load control or general and particular requirements, tests and test conditions.

For its part TC 57 has developed the IEC 60870-5 series that covers Transmission protocols for Telecontrol equipment and systems.

With increasing global trade, many of the elements of Smart Grids, including smart meters, are now sold beyond national borders. All major manufacturers use IEC International Standards to achieve interoperability and ensure that devices can be installed in a wide variety of markets.

Smart meter (Photo: E-Talk, CBC – SALU, Khairpur Smart meter (Photo: E-Talk, CBC – SALU, Khairpur)
Many users become "prosumers" – they are both energy producers and consumers Many users become "prosumers" – they are both energy producers and consumers
Smart Grids rely on the proper and reliable transmission, distribution and use of energy resources Smart Grids rely on the proper and reliable transmission, distribution and use of energy resources