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Smart metering is an IoT technology that’s gradually becoming more widespread as an option for helping consumers save electricity and allowing better management of utility grids. It’ll likely become even more popular as city managers look for improved ways to make certain locations more resilient against severe weather and climate change.
How Does IoT Smart Metering Work?
An IoT smart meter generally links a consumer’s utility meter to a smart grid. It then regularly sends information to utility providers. That information could go to a company’s physical data centre, but the more common option is to send it to the cloud for further analysis. Service providers then get more-timely alerts about potential issues, such as higher-than-normal grid usage.
An IoT smart meter typically has two primary components. The first is the measurement aspect, which gathers ongoing data about how a customer uses resources. The second is a communication module for sending and receiving information.
Smart metering provides better visibility, whether the person examining the data is a customer or utility provider. That makes it easier to recognize unwanted circumstances and take action against them if needed.
What Are the Primary Advantages of Smart Meters?
Statista indicates the smart meter market has a worldwide value of $11.9 billion in 2022. Analysts expect that figure to reach $15.2 billion by 2026. Why is this IoT technology gaining so much traction in the marketplace?
One of the most commonly cited perks of using smart meters is that everyone involved has a chance to save money. That benefit most often comes from logging into a dedicated interface and tracking usage over time. Suppose a customer sees they’re on track for using more energy this month. They might decide to cut back so their bill ends up being around the usual amount.
Before that data collection existed, the customer would get the surprise of a higher bill at the end of the month. Now, they can look at reliable information and use it to make more intelligent and thoughtful decisions.
Some customers can also use smart meters to save in other ways. For example, the United Kingdom’s National Grid is rolling out a test program for smart meter customers. The goal is to encourage people to reduce their energy consumption when the grid is usually under the most demand. Participating households will receive £3 per kWh if they avoid the most energy-intensive activities during those time frames.
Utility providers save money by getting data that allows them to steer clear of catastrophic failures. Smart meters provide information about power supply disruptions. The associated information can determine if a reported outage is part of a wider issue or a problem related to a specific building or customer.
Then, no matter the details linked to specific outages, the smart metering data can pinpoint an outage’s location, tell providers when the disruption occurred and provide other information that helps companies prevent future problems.
Smart meter data can also align with other information sources. For example, some IoT products for utility companies warn of problems like excessive vegetation or heavy snow and ice loads. Getting relevant alerts allows them to send crews out to address matters before outages happen. Providers typically save money as a result.
The main use cases for smart metering exist in the utility sector. However, there are other applications. Consider equipment that helps manufacturers spray multiple types of paint in the right mixtures. Some of these products feature built-in IoT tracking that shows resource usage, time spent per job and more. People can use that data to ensure they have the supplies, employees and other necessities to get work done on time and to specifications.
The United States urgently needs grid modernization. The current infrastructure faces risks from climate change and increased energy consumption from electric cars, among other things. However, smart metering data could inform utility professionals’ plans about how and when to update the grid.
In one case, mathematicians from the University of Nottingham relied on smart meter data to track how the grid’s composition changes over time. One of the notable takeaways was that an increase in solar panel usage could put the grid at a higher risk of power failures.
On the consumer side of things, smart meters can help people understand their energy usage in more detail. If someone received a higher-than-expected bill, what caused it? Sense is a smart meter company that uses machine learning to differentiate between 30 different appliances. People can then track usage and depend on that information to make decisions. Perhaps the refrigerator suddenly started using more energy. That could indicate it’s time for a service call or replacement appliance.
Are There Disadvantages to IoT Smart Metering?
IoT smart meters are like many emerging technologies in that many people aren’t immediately on board with using them. One study showed consumers thought smart meters reduced control over their data. They couldn’t necessarily influence which people at a utility company accessed the information and for what purposes.
However, some study participants believed they had already lost significant control over their data. Thus, smart metering wouldn’t make much of a further negative impact.
The hacking potential is another frequently discussed downside. In one 2021 case, cybersecurity researchers simulated how they could hack into a smart grid and switch off the connected meters. That’s worrisome, particularly with critical infrastructure already a frequent target for cybercriminals.
Evidence also suggests people are not using smart meters to their full potential, but that’s probably not their fault. A study from Mission: data Coalition studied the 14 million smart meters made available to people through $3 billion of funding in 2009. The research indicated that, a decade later, only 2.9% of those devices had real-time data collection enabled. Furthermore, many utility companies did not provide customer interfaces for monitoring energy usage.
These takeaways are not inherent problems with smart metering itself. In fact, the study showed most utility providers opted not to give customers real-time information. Those that did typically only provided it for limited periods. However, these takeaways illustrate the need to encourage companies to change how they use smart meters and offer them to customers.
Smart Metering Represents the Future
Since smart meters gather and send data, there’s no need for customers to do manual meter checks and send them to utility companies. Similarly, those businesses don’t need to calculate estimated readings or send meter readers to physical locations if people fail to provide details.
Smart meter usage will become more widespread. However, helping utility providers use those devices to the full extent of their capabilities and continuing to investigate how to secure them against hacking is vital to stimulate continued adoption and acceptance.