Many areas of opportunity in IoT (Internet of Things) are well known, but there is still a great deal that continues to be overlooked or underserviced, especially when the benefits for business cases are not made clear. This is not the case, however, for smart metering that has undoubtedly already proved its value, even becoming mandatory in some countries.
With many different smart metering types to choose from, and so many options available, it can be difficult to know where to start; this guide should help you understand the basics of smart metering applications and how IoT can be used to improve efficiency and reduce costs.
The world before smart metering
Before smart metering was a thing, there were at least three types of metering devices:
The first mechanical meters were invented in the late 19th century. These devices used a series of gears to count the number of rotations made by a spinning disk.
Early electrical meters were much like their mechanical predecessors, but they used a spinning disk to measure the number of rotations made by an electric current.
Then, the first digital meters were developed in the 1970s. This type of metering device uses a microprocessor to count the number of pulses generated by an electric current.
Smart meters are the latest generation of digital meters. They use a variety of technologies to communicate with the utility, including cellular, radio frequency (RF), power line carrier (PLC), and mesh networks. Smart meters can also remotely disconnect and reconnect service, provide near real-time data about energy consumption, and support two-way communication between the meter and the utility.
Curiously, the first digital metering system was designed in 1972 by Ted Paraskevakos who created a digital monitoring system for fire, security, medical alarm systems, and utility meters based on the automatic telephone line identification system for communication.
Governments and numbers
Governments have started discussing implementing smart metering systems since the late 2000s, and now in 2022, some are demanding it from companies. The UK government, for example, first introduced energy smart meters in the energy act in 2008, which gave powers to begin a smart meter rollout, and in the USA they have been around since 2006 when California’s Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) began a rollout of 9 million smart meters.
In the USA about 65% of all electricity meters had smart capabilities in 2020 and a total of 102 million AMI was in operation at the end of the same year, as the AMR there were 33 million. The UK numbers fall a little bit shorter than the USA, having only 27.8 million between AMI and AMR, totaling a total of 50% of all energy meters.
Metering and submetering
A viable option for metering operations is submetering. The difference’s quite simple: metering is the overall metering from a whole operation, submetering, on the other hand, is the amount collected from only a part of the operation. One way to define utility submetering is that it is a system that allows a landlord, property management firm, condominium association, homeowners association, or any other multi-tenant property to bill tenants for individually measured utility usage. This approach makes use of individual water meters, gas meters, or electricity meters.
For example, metering would be value metered from the whole building, while submetering the amount from only one of the apartments, as shown in the figure below:
While the submetering by itself does not reduce energy use or costs—in fact, the initial implementation of the additional sensors will require more resources—a well designed submetering will generate more data that can help with better energy management strategies and operations.
Sensor data sent by submeters and meters can be one-way or two-way, depending if it is part of an Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) or an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI).
AMR and AMI
There are two types of smart metering systems: Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). AMR can only send data in a short-range, so there might still be the need for a company employee to pass by the site utilizing a gadget to receive that data, while AMI meters provide a two-way communication sending information and also receiving, in this case, there is no need to visit the site to collect the data.
AMR meters use a variety of communication technologies including radio frequency (RF), power line carrier (PLC), and telephone modem. AMI meters use RF, PLC, fiber optics, or cellular networks for two-way communication.
Both solutions provide their own set of benefits, as even though with an AMR an employee might still need to visit the site, the employee doesn’t need to enter it and they can collect several reports in less time.
An AMI can send more specific information than the AMR, so while the AMR can only send the kWh and possible monthly peaks with electricity metering, the AMI will include information about the energy quality, daily kWh usage, and power outages reports. Something that is true for the two types is that the data measured will be more accurate than by a non-smart one.
Main protocols & networks used in smart metering
Whether AMR or AMI, a protocol is needed to make the connection between the sensors and the gateway, and the protocol may differ depending on the sort of meter and requirements, so let’s look at some protocol options:
DLMS stands for Device Language Message Specification. It is a global standard for energy & water smart management, advanced control, and smart and innovative metering.
DLMS Specifies an object-oriented data model, an application layer protocol, and media-specific communication profiles.
COSEM, or Companion Specification for Energy Metering, is one of the key components of DLMS, the object model capable of describing virtually any application.
M-Bus, or Meter-Bus, is a European standard for the remote reading of heat meters and is also usable for other types of consumption meters, as well as for various sensors. The M-Bus interface is made for communication on two wires, making it cost-effective. There is also a radio variant of M-Bus, Wireless M-Bus.
Networks for smart metering
The network protocols are the next step, and these will also be different depending on the type of application and customer needs; some examples of networks would be:
Sigfox offers a software-based communications solution, where all the network and computing complexity is managed in the Cloud rather than on the devices. With all of that together, energy consumption and the cost of connected devices are drastically reduced, making Sigfox considered by many the first Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN), and it pairs well with every type of utility management operation.
LoRaWAN stands for Long-Range Wide Area Networking, and it’s one of the LPWANs that has immensely risen in popularity in the smart metering landscape, especially as it introduces powerful benefits such as long-range connectivity, low-cost operation, and extended battery life.
NB-IoT is another LPWAN and some of its biggest use cases are in the metering area, notably with smart water, smart gas metering, and smart electric metering.
Cat M1, or Category M1, is an LPWAN option that has an average upload between 200kbps and 400 kbps, which is very important since in the IoT (internet of things) world, stability is absolutely crucial, and this network is commonly used for utility meters.
Why are companies opting for smart metering systems?
Leaving aside networks and protocols, one of the main reasons that companies and governments around the world are opting for smart metering systems is their features:
-Remote reading: the ability to read meters remotely without the need for a technician to visit the site.
-Automated reading: the ability to automatically take readings at set intervals and send them to a central system.
-Interval data: the ability to take readings at set intervals and store them locally on the meter. This data can then be downloaded at a later date.
-Load profiling: the ability to take readings of the amount of power being used at different times of the day. This data can then be used to identify patterns in energy usage.
-Demand management: the ability to control the amount of power being used by devices connected to the meter. This can then be used to reduce the overall demand on the power grid.
-Outage management: the ability to detect and report power outages. This information can then be used to improve the reliability of the power supply.
Some of these features are available only for AMR, and others for AMI, making it once again extremely crucial to firstly identify which suits the situation and the use case better.
How can TagoIO help you?
It’s easier to make the most out of smart metering features with an IoT platform, and TagoIO is the one for you. Our cloud platform can store all of the data collected from AMR and AMI systems and display it on any computer or cellphone screen, making it so that you can also schedule the interval when the data will be read, generate outage reports, develop custom scripts to respond to this type of situation, and also have remote control of your smart metering solution.
Some organizations may also prefer to keep their smart metering solutions off of the cloud, and that’s where TagoCore comes in. TagoCore provides an on-premise service on a free, fast, and open-source IoT platform where you can take advantage of all AMR and AMI features, keeping all of your data within your organization.
For those who want to accelerate their smart metering application process, TagoIO also offers a Kickstarter, providing ready-to-go applications so all that you have to do is connect your smart sensors and devices to it without the need to build a dashboard and create the scripts to manage metering data. And if you need any help selecting any of those sensors or devices, either for your Kickstarter or in general, you should take a look at our partners’ page where you will find certified devices and sensors for AMR and AMI applications.