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Guest article: Making the right communications choice for smart meter technology

Stevan Hoyle | April 11, 2013
Smart metering presents an innovative and cost effective way to provide customers with real-time information giving them greater control over energy costs, while supporting the goal of a greener economy.

The State of Smart Metering

The Asia Pacific region has been at the forefront of the 21st century surge in economic growth, driven primarily by exports, which has led to expanded production requirements needed to fuel an ever increasing amount of trade. This has significantly compounded the environmental carrying capacity pressures of many countries in the region, including increased environmental degradation, climate change and diminishing natural resources. According to Navigant Research, "a number of electric utilities and governments in the Asia Pacific region are gearing up their smart grid initiatives, and smart meters will be an integral part of these programmes."

Furthermore, with experts predicting that energy bills are set to rise over the next decade in the bid to reduce the misuse of energy, the ability to provide greater transparency and control over energy usage will become more important to customers when deciding on an energy supplier. Smart metering presents an innovative and cost effective way to provide customers with real-time information giving them greater control over their energy costs, while supporting the goal of a greener economy.

Smart Meter Roll Out

The Asia Pacific region will remain a source of growth for the smart metering industry in coming years as Japan, South Korea, Oceania and Southeast Asia begin to ramp up advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) deployments. South Korea has adopted a national plan for the construction of a smart grid by 2020, Japan already has the world's most advanced power grid monitoring systems in place and several of the leading utilities have announced plans for smart meter deployments over the next 10 years.

However, the deployment of smart meters is a lengthy and complicated process and the traditional way utility companies maintain and operate energy meters will need to change. This will involve everything from re-training engineers and customer service staff, through to the configuration of the back-end systems used to process the information being sent from the smart meters.

The Smart Metering Infrastructure

Large scale trials involving tens of thousands of smart meters are already underway, but one of the main questions yet to be addressed is on the communication method used to transfer the information between the devices and the utility companies.

There are a number of options available, ranging from long wave radio to the use of overhead power lines and even existing mobile operator networks that will utilise machine-to-machine (M2M) technology.

Power Line Communication

Power line communication (PLC) is one option. Combining the two from an infrastructure development and maintenance perspective means set-up costs would be minimal.

That said, one barrier to adoption is the interference PLC suffers due to over-the-air radio transmissions. Given the intensity of radio transmission traffic, this could pose serious issues when trying to set up a reliable and accurate smart meter network infrastructure. The risk of upsetting customers by basing bill charges on inaccurate readings will be a concern as it has the potential to damage customer relationships.

 

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