Businesses of all sizes are under steady pressure to reduce their power consumption – not just to mitigate rising energy costs, but also to meet green legislation requirements. Besides, stakeholders like investors, employees and customers increasingly judge a company by its ‘greenness’ as well as its profitability.
However, gas and electricity meters can help business owners to meet these challenges and create an eco-friendly culture, because of the data they can provide. Smart electricity meters are connected to the electricity mains and monitor power consumption in real time, while smart gas meters are battery-powered and remain ‘asleep’ for most of the time. Every half hour, they “wake up” and send a reading via the electricity meter.
Both offer useful tools to accurately measure energy consumption, and inform strategies to improve efficiency. And there’s plenty of room for improvement; The Carbon Trust estimates that businesses unknowingly waste 20% of the energy that they are charged for as a direct result of outdated or faulty metering units [i]. According to the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), simply installing a smarter meter can save SMEs and landlords more than £200 each year. For larger organisations, the savings can be exponential.
By taking a look at smart meters and their associated technology, we can see how they can benefit both end users and the utility companies providing the energy.
In recent years, PLC technologies such as PRIME, G3 or Meters & More have been used in Europe for electricity meters. Taking advantage of the fact that these meters are connected to the electrical network, this same medium is used for the transmission of meter information. By using advanced on-site or remote concentrators and PRIME smart meters, advanced functions can be achieved by reusing the available physical (electrical) infrastructure. But additionally for gas or water meters there is the PRIME Hybrid technology that allows meters without electrical connection to be connected to the PRIME network to provide advanced metering and remote control functions.
Thanks to this type of technology we allow end users to have access to their readings in, what is virtually real time (soon it will be in real time by combining the PRIME narrowband PLC with the BPL or broadband PLC communication nodes) and the electricity or gas distributors to have control and automation of the medium and low voltage network and monitoring of assets up to the domestic area. With this we achieve one more very important step in having a true Smart Grid or intelligent electrical network.
Giving consumers control
Smart meters give consumers more control over their energy usage. Unlike traditional meters, which simply register a running total of energy used, gas and electricity smart meters can record half-hourly price and consumption data and provide automatic meter readings to the energy supplier. This almost entirely eliminates the risks of human error and billing inaccuracies associated with sending manual gas and electricity readings, and ensures that invoices are based on actual usage, not estimations. Smart meter automatic reporting is also useful for businesses that have a mandatory requirement to provide half-hourly meter readings.
The meters link via LAN to displays which show consumption data in real-time. As well as spotting billing inaccuracies, this allows users to identify operational inefficiencies and reduce a business’ tCO2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalent) emissions to meet climate change obligations.
After users have learned when they use most electricity, they can consider moving to a more appropriate tariff. Innovative smart tariffs allow consumers to save money by using energy away from peak times or when there is excess clean electricity available. Some customers have even been paid to use electricity during very windy days.
Because smart meters reduce costs to energy suppliers by avoiding manual meter readings and reducing billing queries, some of the cheapest tariffs are available to users who have smart meters installed.
Users can opt for their electric vehicles, heating systems and smart appliances to connect to the smart metering system to access pricing data. Activities can be programmed to automatically take advantage of cheaper rates. Sites that generate their own electricity, for example from solar panels, can measure the electricity they generate and communicate this information to the grid manager.
Benefits to energy suppliers
While helping users to improve efficiency and reduce costs, smart meters are equally benefiting the energy suppliers. As modern smart meters offer two-way communication, suppliers can recognise service problems early, due to the constant and accurate information being provided. Engineers will know much faster when power cuts have occurred and will have better insight into what caused them. This will enable them to conduct quicker and cheaper repairs and reduce the risk of similar problems occurring in the future.
An analysis from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [ii] shows that the rollout is delivering more benefits to the UK than it is costing to deliver. Meanwhile, an early diagnosis could make the difference between a business staying open or shutting down temporarily in the event of an energy issue.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
The granular, accurate and real time data available from smart meters can yield further benefits to energy suppliers and their customers if artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technology is used. Raw data can be converted into insights and possibilities for sustainability, health & safety, and competitor analysis.
The granularity of the data means that suppliers can use it to detect anomalies in a customer’s energy consumption. Businesses can pinpoint spikes, outages, or unusual activity and isolate the cause. Not only is this useful from a money-saving perspective, but it is also important for health & safety.
Benchmarking is another benefit of using AI to interpret energy consumption data. This works by comparing consumption profiles for similar business types and highlighting any key trends based on their similarities and differences. A coffee shop, for example, could detect that other coffee shops in the same city are opening or closing an hour earlier, or if competitors are consuming less energy. Benchmarking can be scaled to any business size in most sectors, with larger companies benefitting from even greater efficiencies.
Anomaly detection and benchmarking are two examples of how AI can be applied to metered data to add value for the customer; raw data becomes actionable information.
However, the availability of reliable raw meter data depends not just on the quality of the meters themselves, but also that of their supporting network. Teldat’s Regesta Smart family devices offer next-generation communications for smart meter deployments; they can establish a trustworthy network for real-time communications, advanced networking protocols and guaranteed service isolation.
Smart meters put consumers in control of their energy use, allowing them to adopt energy efficiency measures that can help save money on their energy bills and offset price increases and provide distribution companies with a more precise, dynamic and flexible control tool. Accordingly, they are underpinning the transition to a greener, more reliable energy system.