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Smart meters measuring the consumption of electricity. Source: iStock /Bet_Noire

Benefits of smart meters for utility companies

  • More accurate meter reads
  • Eliminate the need for on-site meter reading
  • Ability to quickly identify and respond to electricity demand
  • Optimize maintenance tasks and restore electricity services more quickly in case of outages

Demand for electricity is rising globally. Estimates foresee an increase as high as 62 percent by 2050. To cope with the growing demand, governments and utility companies are looking into new ways of increasing efficiencies and optimizing processes associated with managing electricity.

Smart meters are an important building block in this context. They form the basis for turning electricity grids into smart grids. They enable energy suppliers to improve the reliability of the electricity grid, while helping customers manage their electricity consumption more effectively.

Smart meters are being rolled out around the world. It is expected that almost 72 percent of European consumers will have a smart meter for electricity by 2020. By the same year, projections foresee that about 90 million smart meters will be installed the United States. And then there is China: back in Q1 of 2018, the country counted upward of 496 million smart meter installations. Impressively, China not only led the global smart meter market, but also accounted for almost 70 percent of the tracked installations.

An important consideration for smart metering

Benefits of smart meters for end users

  • Billing becomes more accurate
  • End users receive a more comprehensive picture of their electricity consumption
  • Dynamic pricing better reflects the demand for electricity

Setting up a smart metering system can be a complex endeavor. It is not enough to install smart meters in buildings. Rather, an underlying infrastructure is needed in order to make smart metering work – the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). This term describes a complex structure made up of the different components that make it possible to retrieve data from the smart meters, process it, and ultimately make it available to the utilities via subsystems downstream.

However, it is not only the complexity of different, interconnected systems that has to be considered when setting up a smart metering system. It is also about keeping track of a large number of devices in the field, managing them efficiently, and keeping them up to date. Accordingly, the following key requirements must be met by the components of a smart metering solution:

  • Reliability: It is a basic requirement that the smart metering system works reliably, regardless of the number of smart meters in the field. This has to be a given, otherwise the whole system becomes invalid.
  • Scalability: In course of a smart meter rollout, an ever-growing number of devices are put into operation. A smart metering system needs to be able to cope with this increase, ensuring that data is sent back and forth reliably.
  • Security: The security requirements for smart metering systems are extremely high. Therefore, they are not deployed in your typical cloud environments. Instead, secure, closed-off networks are employed, where access is limited to the parties needed to keep the system running.
  • Software update capabilities: In line with the high security requirements that the cloud infrastructure has to fulfill, it is also crucial that the software running on the smart meter is up to date. This means that the smart metering system has to provide the means of rolling out software updates, thus ensuring that security issues are resolved quickly, should they arise.
  • Flexibility: For different target markets and customer scenarios, the deployment requirements in terms of infrastructure and operations can vary quite strongly. Hence, a smart metering system has to provide a certain degree of flexibility.

Device management for smart meters put into practice

For an Asian customer, we recently implemented a head-end system based on the Bosch IoT Remote Manager. As the first point of contact between the smart meter and the back-end systems, the Bosch IoT Remote Manager plays a particularly important role when it comes to managing devices in the field; the keyword is reliability.

For instance, the Bosch IoT Remote Manager is a crucial component of an alerting system that enables energy suppliers to react quickly to power outages. If the smart meter detects a power failure, this is reported directly to the Bosch IoT Remote Manager, which passes the information on to the systems downstream. Based on these alerts, the utility company is able to directly receive information about the status of the electricity grid.

What is a head-end system?

A head-end system (HES) is the first point of contact between the smart meter and the systems located on the back-end. The HES receives data from the smart meter – for example, information on electricity consumption. In addition, it can be used to configure the smart meter, including the rolling out of software updates. This interaction is made possible by a telecommunications module that comes built into the smart meter. The HES provides an interface to the meter data management system (MDMS). Among others, this interface enables the MDMS to configure the smart meters or request data from them. In addition, the MDMS regularly receives measurement data via the HES that will then be processed further.

The Bosch IoT Remote Manager also collects the measurement data of the smart meters, which the utility company then uses for billing purposes. These measurements have to be collected on a daily basis within a specific timeframe. To meet this requirement, the Bosch IoT Remote Manager has to efficiently manage loads, thus ensuring that the large amounts of data are collected reliably.

It is not just about receiving data from the smart meters; the Bosch IoT Remote Manager also provides software updates to them. This process has to be as straightforward as possible. Nobody wants to be responsible for providing updates to thousands if not millions of devices manually. The Bosch IoT Remote Manager helps automate the update process. It is able to store the firmware updates that are going to be rolled out and provides an overview of successful and unsuccessful updates. With its built-in rules engine, users can also define what should happen in case of certain events; for example, when a previously unsuccessful update should be restarted.

As the project progresses, more smart meters are rolled out. In the future, the Bosch IoT Remote Manager will thus manage a significantly larger number of devices, while providing the same level of reliability.

Further reading

Learn more about current IoT topics at the Bosch IoT Web Days.

We take a closer look at the smart meter rollout in Germany and how it will pave the way for new IoT services.

How to master complexity in IoT deployments: check out our IoT device management white paper.

Hager set up a home energy management system using the Bosch IoT Suite.

The Bosch IoT Suite was rated as a leading IoT platform for device management by MachNation.