Smart meters – measuring the future

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I recently travelled to the Middle East region for work, and was struck by the advances that have been made in smart cities there, all aligned to long term strategies for leveraging technology advancement for population experience, ease of living and physical precinct and services management.

One of the examples I saw included transforming smart healthcare in a Smart Cities context and as this article shows the region’s overall strategy is highly evolved and continues to test the boundaries. Another smart city solution I saw a lot of in the region, and one that has particular significance for my home country Australia, was smart meters.

My home state of Victoria rolled out some 2.8 million smart meters across the state in 2015, and the potential for this capability is huge. Energy providers have been gathering and utilizing data from the smart meters since 2013 to make advances in productivity and efficiency but this is just the start.

The initial deployment falls in line with the Energy Network Australia (ENA) study Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap, which laid out a path to cleaner, more efficient energy for all of Australia. Under the measures in the roadmap, Australian households would be better off by $414 per year, as part of a targeted saving for customers of over $100 billion by 2050.

How do Smart Meters work and why does it matter?

Smart meters are digital devices that connect a household or work environment to the power network, and also communicate with one another. A big benefit of smart meters over traditional meters is that being connected means data capture happens more quickly and regularly – say for example every 30 minutes rather than the every 3 months that it took previously for an energy company engineer to visit a home and manually collect the meter reading.

A smart meter is essentially a utility meter with additional functionality built in. Thanks to them being connected they can send data directly to utility providers, indicate when homes are using more water or power – enabling homeowners to be more energy efficient – and help consumers control costs.

Smart meters are a key part of Australia’s vision of creating a new energy future. Digital technology is central to that, and smart meters can drive these new energy efficiencies whole also giving Australian consumers greater choice, control and information over their energy needs. Think of them as the “internetization” of energy metering, giving consumers the same kind of control they enjoy when shopping, banking or performing work tasks online.

Another benefit of smart meters is that they enable utility providers to manage supply more efficiently. They can gather accurate data and influence their customers’ energy consumption, and they can also enjoy an overall reduction in service costs. The connected nature of smart meters means the potential for delivering new energy services and also even a new communication channel to customers.

Security plays a key part

As with all connected smart devices however, we cannot afford to compromise on security. The very fact that smart meters are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) means they are potential targets for malicious agents – hackers, in other words.

There have been examples of smart meters being hacked and turned against their owners, either to disable them entirely or to commit billing fraud – and even find out when the homeowner is not at home! A report from Canberra University last year found that Australia’s smart meters still need some work - default passwords, unpatched firmware and unencrypted traffic were all issues. Working with the right partner to ensure security across the network is essential.

The right connectivity is vital

Connected meters typically use relatively little power and as such are ideal devices for connecting via LoRa Wide Area Networks (WAN), designed purposely for IoT applications. LoRa is a very low cost connectivity option and Orange has already recognized the potential for the technology – Orange serves as a board member of the LoRa® Alliance also recently carried out the first successful field test of international roaming between different nationwide public LoRaWAN IoT networks.

Smart meters paving the way

Smart meters are just one of the many digital technologies paving the way to smart cities, something that Australia has truly committed to: the Australian government last year pledged to invest in 52 smart city projects with AU$28.5 million round one funding. The goal of these projects is to make cities more pleasant places in which to work, live and invest, and smart metering can play a big role in that – Australia and New Zealand have already committed to investing AU$6.1 billion in smart grid infrastructure to enhance the future.

In future blog articles I will take a look at other elements of smart cities in Australia and what we can look forward to.

In the meantime, to read further about how Orange is enabling the cities of the future with digital technology, please visit https://www.orange-business.com/en/industries/smart-cities

Paul Tucker
Paul is a seasoned global ICT sales and account management professional with 20 years’ experience in various facets of the industry, including new business development, executive client relationship management, pursuit strategy, account marketing and account management. He has broad vertical industry experience, mostly in Financial Services & Natural Resources / Mining.
 
Paul is passionate about people and collaboration and putting the client challenge at the centre of his thinking is his fundamental mantra to help bridge the gap between business and technology requirements.