SMART METERING Powering energy conservation through M2M technologies [May 2012]

“M2M technologies, which combine sensors and applications that leverage the power of the available wireless networks to help machines communicate with each other are driving the evolution of smart metering concepts across the world” Emmanuel Maçon-Dauxerre, Energy Segment Sales Director, Telit Wireless Solutions
Energy conservation and eco-friendliness has taken centre stage in the world around, even as the energy resources are depleting day by day. Add to that the environmental concerns of global warming and increasing green house gases, the problem seems ever increasing in nature. Nations and corporations across the globe have energy conservation high on their social and economic agendas. They are trying out various ways and means to conserve energy and produce clean energy.
While clean energy seems to be a natural option, it will take many years before they become mainstream and find unequivocal adoption. But the fact is that there is too much ambiguity and far too much cost involved to economically sustain alternative energy sources as the prime source of energy. However, even with alternative energy coming into play, the key to energy security and a cleaner environment is conservation of energy.  But most importantly, it is about the most efficient and optimal usage of energy which surpasses every other concern that we may have.
For instance, in India, the government has launched an ambitious program under the National Solar Mission wherein it intends to establish India as a global leader in solar energy, by creating the policy conditions for its diffusion across the country as quickly as possible. The first phase (up to 2013) will focus on capturing of the low hanging options in solar thermal; on promoting off-grid systems to serve populations without access to commercial energy and modest capacity addition in grid-based systems. In the second phase, after taking into account the experience of the initial years, capacity will be aggressively ramped up to create conditions for up scaled and competitive solar energy penetration in the country.
Besides that, the government also has decided to dole out tariff subsidies for consumers reducing the burden on utilities and making alternative power affordable for consumption. However, in spite of these efforts one of the key concerns that the government has in mind is the issue of optimal energy usage without any wastage or unaudited usage of energy.  One of the key aspects that will make the government’s plan to provide power grid based areas and off grid areas with non-conventional sources of energy is proper accounting/ auditing of the power being consumed. Amongst the primary reasons are pilferage and wastage of energy due to theft and technical power losses. Even if the government provides power to off-grid areas with non-conventional sources of energy, the key concern of the government would be to ensure that power usage is fairly balanced between power generation costs and revenues. If it is unable to check this aspect most of the projects envisaged by the government may start to seem untenable.
The main reason behind is that the alternative energy today is considered to be a costlier alternative to conventional energy sources albeit with significant long term economic and environmental benefits. And if the power generated by alternative sources is not consumed in an accounted manner, the cost of funding such projects will grow manifold making alternative sources of power a distance reality.Same holds true for the conventional sources of energy. Today, only about 60 per cent of the power generated by the country reaches the consumer. Nearly 40 per cent of the power generated is lost due to inefficient transmission technologies and theft. If the scenario remains unchanged with alternative sources of energy kicking in, the scenario would not be any more different. Apart from these aspects, there is also a lack of understanding and awareness amongst consumers in terms of efficient usage of the power that reaches their homes further adding to the woes of energy conservation.
Though Transmission & Distribution (T&D) losses are not unique to India, it has global precedence as well, the key aspect besides creating awareness amongst consumers on efficient usage of power is that technological interventions need to be put in place to alleviate these issues to a great extent.
One of the key technologies that is helping drive this conservation initiatives across the globe is adoption of smart metering concepts that are being powered by M2M (Machine-to-Machine) technologies.
M2M technologies, which combine sensors and applications that leverage the power of the available wireless (GSM/ CDMA/ Zigbee) networks to help machines communicate with each other are driving the evolution of smart metering concepts across the world. M2M technologies are not only helping utilities become economically more viable but are also making consumers aware of conservation techniques that could help bring down their energy costs.
While consumers also benefit from the adoption of such technologies, the utilities benefit the most by getting access to data and information that was otherwise not possible.  Adoption of smart metering technologies powered by M2M technologies not only provides them with almost real time data and information but also provides significant visibility into their energy auditing process,  helping them account for almost every ounce of energy consumed. This not only helps them monitor the usage patterns but also provides them with insights into terms of power usage and helps them narrow down to problem areas (irrespective of whether they are technical issues or pilferage issues).
Normally, standalone metering, which is largely the standard right now, is highly person dependant which can result in a great deal of human errors that make accurate measurement of power consumption almost impossible. Besides that there are many related issues that come into play when we have archaic metering systems. Energy audits which are performed based on bill collection are highly inaccurate as billing is done on an estimated monthly average consumption basis. Due to this, utilities are unable to monitor and control discrete loads leading to lack of consistent supply thereby resulting in frequent outages. Manual reading of meters increases billing cycles apart from introducing inaccuracies in the data that does not help in making critical analysis such as demand analysis, energy audit and pinpointing losses.
But introduction of innovative concepts like smart metering or wireless AMRs (Automated Meter Reading) technologies will help alleviate such issues. This is because wireless AMRs and smart metering concepts will help utilities move towards a more centralised operational control model wherein data communication starts to play a more pivotal role in the overall operation of utilities’ electric distribution systems. Everyday more and more utilities across the world are turning to wireless technologies to improve operations and decision making in the delivery of various customer services including electric, gas, water, etc. As this reliance on wireless connectivity grows and technology improves, wireless networks start taking an increasingly significant role as the backbone over which utilities are connected to their assets, employees and customers.
The impact of M2M technologies is not just restricted to benefiting utilities but it also has the potential to impact the behaviour of consumers towards energy conservation. Today, consumers have very little idea / awareness about their energy consumption patterns and the associated costs. With the help of M2M technologies they can get an accurate view on how each energy consuming device in their household is contributing to their energy bills. For demonstration purposes, let us say, if a consumer gets visibility into which device consumes the greatest amount of energy under what conditions, he / she would be more careful in operating that particular device resulting in reduced energy bills in the long run. This can be made possible by using different kinds of sensors which are connected to M2M devices/ applications that provide them with wireless updates about their energy consumption patterns helping them make more informed decisions on their usage patterns. Besides this, it will also provide them with visibility into when and how are they consuming more power than the sanctioned loads thereby helping them optimally use the energy. This will not only lead to lower energy bills for consumers but will also help them conserve energy.
While there are numerous other benefits that M2M enabled smart metering concepts can bring to the table, what is very clear is that they play a critical role in the world’s effort towards energy conservation and reducing the carbon footprint due to inefficient usage of power and electricity.

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