Should meters be Smart or Smarter?

July 18, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Utilities, vendors, and policymakers are intensely discussing the issue of how smart meters should be, an issue with profound IT implications.  All agree that smart meters should record interval usage data, have two-way communications, provide outage and other alarms, and send data back to utilities at least daily.  Americans now focus on the Home Area Network (HAN) interface.  The industry generally agrees there should be such an interface but has not reached consensus on what it does.  A smart interface would simply forward prices and control signals and “chirp” usage data frequently, as often as every five seconds, to an in-home display (IHD), PC, or home energy management device.  A smarter interface would perform some processing and have some logic, such as adding up – framing – hourly interval data into meter time-of-use “registers” and perhaps even calculate estimated bills.  Europeans focus on framing and prepayment: should a smart meter simply convey the detailed raw data or should it perform local calculations?

Perhaps ironically, smarter meters increase the cost and risk of smart meter deployment.  Adding a bit more memory and processing capability into meters has minimal added cost.  The need, however, to manage the programming in each meter is very difficult and expensive, especially as pricing and service options proliferate.  Rather than allowing for the management of a single central processing system – the Meter Data Management System – smarter meters require managing millions of processors with hundreds or even thousands of individual configurations.  On the home management side, a PC or dedicated system has far more capability and flexibility than even the smartest meter will ever have.  Smarter meters increase risk as well, because they are inherently less flexible; once installed, a smart meter will endure for at least a decade and probably two.  In a sense, it may as well be in outer space, because the economics prohibit physically visiting that meter.

Let’s be smart about smart meters and keep the intelligence where it can be managed, operated, and upgraded most cost-effectively: in the MDM systems and in the PCs and other home energy management devices with the real logic and processing capabilities.

Chris King

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Entry filed under: Smart Grid.

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