Most electric power markets across Europe and North America have either recently adopted smart electric meters, or plan to do so in the near future. Specific smart meter technologies vary across manufacturers and locations, but all smart meters have one thing in common: the ability to transmit real-time electricity use from the point of use to the provider.
Older technology meters have been in existence for decades, and are analog devices that provide a cumulative record of electricity consumption. These meters must be “read” on a regular basis, usually requiring the presence of a human employee on the premises to determine the meter reading.
Smart meters use solid state technology and output digital data on a continuous basis. They can use a number of different technologies to relay data to the power company, including radio frequency, “text messaging (SMS)” or other mobile cellular communication protocols, or communication via the existing power lines (PLC).
Figure 1 source www.energate.com
When meters are placed above ground level, wireless communication is generally not an issue; however, for meters placed in a basement, additional antennas may be required on the exterior of the home at or above ground level to effectively transmit the data. This often results in additional costs to the consumer.
The widespread use of smart meter technology has been put forth as an approach to energy savings. Energy use tends to peak in the afternoon hours, and real-time customer use data would allow energy companies to incorporate differential billing rates, increasing rates during the peak use hours and decreasing rates during off-peak hours.
In theory, this approach could also save money for consumers, by allowing them to make educated choices about their energy use patterns. Most currently installed systems allow consumers to go online to access their billing information in near-real time.
However, not all smart meters currently interface with home control and home automation systems. In many markets in the United States, this is being promised as a “phase II” level of smart meter technology implementation. Consistency of support across home control systems and software platforms presents challenges in fully implementing such systems.
A number of innovative products are rapidly being introduced into the market that will enable homeowners to gather and view real-time and cumulative information about their utility usage within the home. The In Home Display by Aztech provides wireless communication with the smart meters used by utility companies. The displays provide information on current energy use and costs.
The units have a color coded light bar that provides visual feedback on whether the rates are peak use rates (red) or off-peak (green). The display units do not require retrofitting and are compatible with most smart meter systems. Similar units are available that provide information on water and natural gas use.
Energate, a Canadian company, is offering a complete home energy management system, the Foundation Smart Thermostat. This thermostat is an example of a device that communicates directly with a smart meter through secure, wireless communication channels, and provides a display based interface to the consumer. Real-time energy costs can be displayed on the thermostat panel.
These systems, and others like them, allow for internet-based or cell-phone control, so that homeowners can access and control their systems when absent from the home. Most of these systems also interface directly with existing home automation systems. This is important, because it would be confusing to have separate systems for home automation, energy use information, and smart meter-based thermostat controls.Log in to post comments