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Smart Metering and the IoT of Utilities

The Internet of Things (IoT) has enabled smart metering resulting in the efficient management of utility services. Essential utilities such as water, gas, and electricity can be provided to end-users effortlessly, allowing both utility companies and their consumers to benefit from the many advantages.

Some of the advantages of smart metering include efficient energy use, timely servicing and repairing of utility infrastructure, and improved compliance with regulations. Utilities and councils can benefit from a better return on investment (ROI) thanks to accurate meter readings, a reduction in wastage, and the elimination of physical readings. On the other hand, consumers can track their usage and set up limits when they cross certain thresholds. In addition, they are charged accurately for their use and can gain access to their usage data in real-time.

Let’s take a look at the evolution of smart meters and how they continue to change the way we look at utility metering.

IoT-enabled smart metering is changing the utility sector

Until smart metering became popular, traditional old mechanical meters had dominated the three main areas of metering – water, electricity, gas.

These mechanical meters were installed in the business and residential units decades ago. Although they used older technology, they were quite reliable. As a result, many utilities and councils have still not replaced them with newer and more accurate digital meters in many regions. However, technological changes and consumer expectations have propelled the growth of IoT-enabled smart meters.

It must be noted that while gas metering still depends on mechanical meters largely, electricity providers have been quicker to adopt automated meters. In the last decade or so, there has been a proliferation of digital meters, which are connected to a diverse range of network devices. Initial smart meters were connected to dial-up modems and GPRS/CDMA, before being connected to 3G networks. As 4G networks are commonly available now, smart meters can easily be connected to 4G networks to enhance water, gas, and electricity meter readings.

The traditional model of metering

In the traditional model, meters are read physically by hired people who visit customer premises. They record data on different devices, sometimes even on paper. These visits don’t happen regularly and may take place every month or once in three months. Once meters are read, utilities and councils provide a bill to the consumer. These monthly and quarterly bills are not accurate due to human errors, overlooking wastage, etc. They also do not provide real-time data to users so that they can monitor their energy, water, or gas usage.

How smart metering works

Utility providers and local councils (government bodies) place requests for proposals for millions of meters to be installed in their territories. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or metering vendors provide smart and digital meters to utilities and councils. Sometimes, metering vendors may additionally provide installation, maintenance, and other services such as the provisioning of meter data. Smart meters automatically track usage, and wastage, assist in provisioning and provide real-time insights to utilities and end-users. Data is transmitted over cellular networks in real time with minimal security risks.

Advantages of modern smart meters

There are a number of advantages of using smart meters. Here are a few:

  • There have been big advances in smart meter battery technology and communication protocols.
  • Earlier smart meters required heavy infrastructural investment, as they used 3G-enabled protocols such as Zigbee. Modern smart meters use Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and Lightweight M2M (LwM2M). They win over other protocols such as LoRaWAN and Sigfox.
  • 4G-enabled NB-IoT and LwM2M smart meters can be pre-provisioned and physically installed and tested on-premises in no time.
  • NB-IoT enabled smart meter batteries to consume low power and help in energy savings.
  • Earlier, 2G and 3G-enabled smart meters had a lifetime between 6 months to 3 years. Modern meters last between 10-12 years, some pushing to 15 years.
  • Gas and water meters are being given a push, although they lagged behind electricity meters. Gas meters preventively and proactively address gas-related issues.

In short, NB-IoT meters help consumers and service providers to avoid wastage, identify leaks, avoid disasters and revenue loss, and generate accurate bills. They help in accessing close-loop information and monitor usage in real-time via smartphones. In fact, electricity meters have advanced to a point where automated reading is possible. That leap will come to gas and water as well. Most importantly, multiple installations can be made in a very short period of time thanks to the pervasiveness of 4G networks.

Some smart meter challenges

Although smart meters have a number of advantages, there are some challenges too.
Most meter vendors and OEMs are from the US and Europe. However, some are from China which may cause policy-related issues.
Gas meters have been lagging behind electricity meters. Thankfully, there has been a big push now for gas vendors to use NB-IoT.
Currently, there is a dearth of standards for interoperability and interconnectivity in the utility industry.
There is a need for standard device management protocols to install, maintain, and manage smart meters
These challenges can be addressed by using standard protocols such as NB-IoT and LwM2M. Newer standards such as LwM2M are secure and efficient protocols for metering.

What are the benefits for utilities and end-users?

Legacy water and gas meters have been in the ground for 20-30 years or more. They need to be upgraded and replaced. Although traditional meters may be cheaper, local bodies and utilities will eliminate multiple expenses such as having to pay for mechanical readers, wastage of gas and water through leaks, and a reduction in consumer use thanks to real-time monitoring.

How Friendly helps

Friendly’s proven carrier-grade device management platform helps service providers such as utilities and councils to manage multiple devices such as routers, gateways, and smart meters. Our NB-IoT and LwM2M solutions are based on years of experience in testing, provisioning, and field use. Our DM platform enhances interoperability and can easily be integrated with third-party systems such as cloud-based analytics, reporting, etc.

To learn more about smart metering and how our DM solution can help, contact us today.