With more and more companies looking to implement smart metering systems, three industry experts offer their footprints to success.
What advice would you give utility companies who are looking to implement smart metering systems?
Michael Untiet. Initial approaches in smart meter systems were defined solely by the requirement for remote meter reading of values and the functions of the relevant metering points. This method is easily traceable and technically feasible. We now see that metering point operators, who understand their role in the market and have defined their data flows in business processes, have it significantly easier when taking the next step.
That includes the concept for a service-oriented IT architecture, where a meter data management component draws the data centrally and efficiently, and makes it available for the various business processes. These processes are based on specific standards for communication, and can be integrated into a variety of AMI systems. Metering points will continue to develop in terms of technology, which means that recommendations will only ever provide a temporary evaluation. In my opinion, it is much more important to think about the storage and further processing of the data, as this will be the only sure way to economically cope with future requirements for process efficiency, customer focus and additional topics like Smart Grid.
Henrik Lindén. When looking at different technology solutions, don't forget to take a look at all of the business opportunities that will be found. Smart metering can not only help to run the core business of the utility more efficient, it can also extend the business into new market areas. The choice of technologies is very important for the future business strategy of the utility. Hence, it is not just a choice of low costs - it's a choice of opportunities.
Bo Harald. My advice would be to make anything you offer clinically simple and then simplify and simplify it. Smart metering obviously needs to be connected to a personal internet connection and there I would advise my utility companies to team up with the banking sector so that when people sign up for electricity contracts, they can sign the contract electronically with their banking codes as they do for a loan agreement and so forth.
The next piece of advice would be to start with invoicing now. As this is the most obvious connection with the customer and we're undoubtedly moving into an age where there won't be any paper invoices at all, many customers see these invoices as contributing to cutting down ten million trees - every invoice will do its part of that - so smart metering without the correct invoicing and portals won't make any sense at all.
What is the importance of two-way communication in providing effective intelligent metering to the utility industry?
HL. With two way-communications, the possibilities don't grow by two - they grow by much more. Suddenly, you are able to not only read a value, but also control the meter and all devices connected to it in a building. This can be used to switch on an off the energy supply or different applications that use energy. To be able to monitor and control all this will be extremely valuable to become efficient in the use of energy and in the aim for the overall target, to save our environment.
BH. With business-to-business, any invoice that is sent from the business has to be totally automated and digital. However, from the consumer perspective, I would not advise designing an extensive system that is reliant on two-way communication from a couple of angles. First of all, it's very expensive to run and secondly, it's also very easy to write a message to a consumer that nobody understands at the other end and it's difficult to get out an answer.
MU. One of the most significant advantages of smart metering for utility companies is two-way communication. Its advantages go beyond the much quoted use case in terms of support for requirement management by way of switching or service reduction. Communication can support various additional business processes, for example exchanging configuration data for the process of meter replacement, the modification of operating times or the analysis within the scope of maintenance work, which can contribute towards cost reductions for metrology. And we must not forget future requirements for the Smart Grid, for which bidirectional communication will be prerequisite.
What are the benefits associated with different communication types, for example PLC, GPRS and RF?
BH. GPRS is providing its value in many places - and that's the direction it'll continue to take. It's already happening with intrusion alarm systems and the like, so why not with meter reading - there's definitely the space.
MU. Our many projects have shown that it isn't enough in terms of availability to rely on just one communication channel. Existing infrastructures and possibly costs could be an argument in favour of PLC. Traditional communication providers are however able to quickly and securely provide services based on their DSL networks, or in case of insufficient availability, via GPRS. Procurement and operation may, on the other hand, be quite costly.
However, we also see that there is currently a lot of development going on in all technologies, which will open up new possibilities. That is why it is important to back AMI, which supports all communication channels and is open for the integration of future developments.
HL. Regarding GPRS and other RF systems, you have all the benefits of wireless two-way communication. GPRS, mobile phone systems, has the advantage that the infrastructure and maintenance is already taken care of by the mobile network operator.
Other RF system can be developed easily for 'free' frequencies and without the control from operators.
Since Smarteq is an antenna company, PLC is not a technology that we are involved in except when the data, collected by PLC, is transferred from a wireless concentrator that needs an antenna. However, the biggest benefit we hear of regarding PLC is mainly cost since you can use already existing wires. Our experience - and this is also our belief - is that a mix of the different communication types will often be used for greater effect.
How important is the need for high-quality, reliable components to help utility companies ensure their smart metering systems are delivering maximum efficiency?
HL. A smart meter is supposed to deliver accurate performance for many years. To achieve this objective, it is needed to use high-quality components and materials to make products that are engineered to withstand all possible weather and other environmental conditions that can occur during the long lifetime. When it comes to antennas, they are the crucial link in a wireless system and performance is very important. Furthermore, an antenna should be easy and quick to install together with the meters as this can save a lot of money during the rollout projects.
MU. Most certainly, requirements for reliable, high-performance systems have taken a back seat in the past, as many pilot projects focused on technical feasibility for low volumes at ideal conditions. The result was solutions that supplemented existing systems with some additional functions without the requirement of having to support all business processes reliably - specifically in terms of their international diversity.
KISTERS can benefit today from many years of experience in designing and developing energy data management systems, since our systems have always been a central data conversion hub between the various business applications. As we have learned from our initial extensive rollouts for smart meter projects, this is where the decision is made in terms of system reliability for the support of business processes and whether or not an energy supplier has a future-proof market position based on an efficient meter data management system. The basic requirements here are high-quality components - like the ones KISTERS has been developing and successfully deploying in the energy sector for years.
BH. Obviously that is very important otherwise things will become over expensive very quickly. Standardisation issues are also becoming important - and I think they should be driven with more enthusiasm. Without standardisation, you have no proper competition and without proper competition, you don't achieve any real progress. I would say that this should be an ambition for companies as it will be very difficult to get a fast payback without reliable and cost-effective components. Again, that will not prevail if standardisation isn't present.
If you look at standardisation in the area of electronic invoicing, which is what I specialise in, I can certainly see a huge leap forward this year. If I judge from here that we've been taken aback by our levels of progress, why shouldn't it also happen in areas such as meter reading? It's probably going down the same road but will take a bit longer because there are some hardware aspects here that obviously need to be worked on.
The all-important aspect for the industry is to look at what we're doing with our customers. The aim is to cut administrative costs in half - that can be done by moving to electronic invoicing. On the back of it, you can automate accounting, processes, cash estimates; pretty much anything. It would be really important for the utilities world to commit themselves to this for the good of society at large.
Henrik Lindén, CEO of Smarteq, has a wide knowledge and experience - both technical and commercial - of antenna products and the wireless market. In 1999, he joined the historically well-reputed Swedish antenna company Allgon as Product Manager. The business area was sold to Smarteq in 2000. During the years, Lindén has held different positions as Automotive Business Manager, CTO, Sales and Marketing Manager.
Michael Untiet joined KISTERS AG (Aachen, Germany) in 2005 after having experienced energy business with several companies for over 20 years. At KISTERS he is the business development manager for energy market and control solutions. As branch office manager of KISTERS in Oldenburg, Untitet is also head of the business unit 'control systems' and sales manger for Northern Germany & international.
Bo Harald is Head of the Executive Advisors Unit at TietoEnator. His aim is to concentrate on consulting and advising on services for the digitalization of business operations. Harald previously worked for 30 strong years in the world of banking, with particular focus on e-banking with the Union Bank of Finland. He continues to specialise in e-habits created in banking with TietoEnator.