Smart Grid

February 22, 2012

Smart Meters to Usher in Home Area Networks and Smart Appliances in 2012

By TMCnet Special Guest
Paula Smith, Zpryme Sr. Smart Grid Research Analyst

Once upon a time, humankind invented something called a smart meter, a solid state electric meter with two-way communications capabilities. And considering its ability to monitor and manage everything from power disturbances to street lamps to refrigerators, humankind will never be the same again. According to a new INFOgraphic by Zpryme, Smart Grid Executive Survey 2012, over 52 million smart meters will be installed in the United States by the end of 2012. In addition, 19.5 billion smart meters are scheduled for worldwide deployment between now and 2015.

The advent of smart meters has created a bonanza of opportunities for the world, including cost and energy savings for consumers and utilities alike. They literally are the “beating heart” of the smart grid infrastructure, and experts believe their operation could cut power consumption by as much as 10 percent. However, now that critical smart grid infrastructure is in place in the United States, there is still plenty of work to be done in 2012 and 2013 before we can fully usher in the next generation smart grid. Dr. Wei-En Tan, Marketing Managing Director at Elster, explained to Zpryme, “Innovation can only continue if there is a more focused push toward industry-wide standards adoption. In order for our engineers and researchers to continue to develop the tools and applications that can be integrated with today's – and tomorrow’s – technologies, there needs to be industry consensus on technical standards to ensure interoperability. Standards are an excellent means of fostering ‘technology neutral’ solutions. Elster is extensively involved with European Smart Metering Industry Group (ESMIG) and we are proposing a similar course of action for Brazil.”

Smart meters support multiple wireless and power line remote communication technologies to enable a range of energy efficiency and demand response applications. Utility companies are now armed with the ability to capture areas of network disruption, as well as the size of power leaks or thefts, and to repair them without the need of sending a repair crew. Utility companies can also benefit from cost-cutting initiatives by using smart metering to obtain an “off-cycle” final meter read for customers who are moving or leaving the area and coupling them with web sites for rapid online or telephone bill payments before the consumer leaves the area. In addition, smart meter systems can frequently accommodate prepayment meters with multiple options for payment, such as recharging via the Internet or telephone, and with emergency overrides.

With smart meters and communication networks in place, there will be additional investment on the customer side of the meter in home energy management and smart building technologies. Globally, utilities in the developing world are confronting the early challenges of smart grid adoption and smart meter rollouts. "What is important is having solutions that help utilities in these regions solve business problems. It’s not about the technology, but about helping utilities solve problems. As you can imagine, different utilities operating in different regulatory structures and environments have different business drivers. What is important is having the expertise and flexible end-to-end solutions that can help these utilities solve their business problems, ranging from energy efficiency, to grid optimization, to customer satisfaction, to revenue protection (in some emerging countries)," Sonita Lontoh, Head of Corporate Marketing at Trilliant told Zpryme.

Forty-nine percent of smart meters will include home area networking connectivity by 2013 which will allow smart meters to make a link to consumers in-home devices. Electricity pricing information can be delivered to the customer who can adjust demand for a time of day when prices are lower. Smart meters will give customers real-time consumption data via display devices that will enable the consumer to change and/or manage their usage patterns to reduce the cost of their utility bills. In addition, a smart meter could allow consumers to sell surplus energy back to the grid if they have saved energy by other means, such as with the use of solar panels. 

The meter data management (MDM) market is growing in a manner consistent with smart meter rollouts. With its acquisition of MDM leader eMeter, Siemens (News - Alert) plans to turn the product into a full-blown platform. ABB is also at work building a software division under the Ventyx brand. Cisco has also invested millions producing smart grid reference architecture, and Itron has provided an MDM system for NV Energy. 

Smart meter technology has also opened the door for major appliance companies to engage in a race to manufacture “smart” appliances. The major players are developing networked appliances capable of receiving and responding to signals from the smart grid. LG has already manufactured washers which feature liquid-crystal displays, as well as a washer and dryer that can emit tones to let a technician figure out what’s wrong by phone, eliminating a diagnostic visit. Also in the works are smart phone applications that would let an LG oven send a text message to its owner saying a roast is ready and let the owner remotely lower the temperature to keep the food warm. Samsung (News - Alert) will be among the first to start selling a connected product in May when they offer a refrigerator with Wi-Fi connectively and an eight-inch touch screen that displays recipes and runs applications like Internet radio. GE already sells a connected refrigerator, a dishwasher, laundry machines, and a water heater to utilities running market trials. 

Simply stated, smart meters are the key that has unlocked the whole gamut of technological advancements which have resulted in the creation HAN’s and smart appliances. They are, and will continue to be the legend that has created our “Smart Grid Wonderland.”

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Edited by Rich Steeves