More than 40 percent of the 160 million electric meters in North America are considered smart. Smart metering and smart grid technology have delivered tangible benefits to both utilities and consumers; however, utilities have yet to realize their full potential and the value of the data the systems generate.

For the smart grid to deliver on its promise, data analysis and decisions must take place where it makes most sense -- at the edge of the network rather than in the utility back-office. That’s the idea behind edge intelligence and advanced communications.

Distributing intelligence across the smart grid network allows utilities to economically solve problems that couldn’t feasibly be solved before, greatly increasing the significance and timeliness of smart grid analytic applications, as well as network capacity utilization. Itron’s newly announced ITRON RIVA™ edge intelligence platform yields a new and common set of technology attributes for meters, grid sensors and other types of intelligent devices.

  • Locational awareness: Smart meters and grid devices know where they are in relation to other grid assets (feeders, phases, substations, transformers, distributed generation, other meters, etc.), creating greater connectivity and options for command and control. This self-awareness opens up an entirely new approach to smart grid use cases and applications.
  • Multilingual devices: A unified software platform supports multiple communication and application protocols, allowing a single meter or grid device to simultaneously speak the language of distribution automation, load control and smart metering. This enables highly localized communication and action among diverse devices, assets and grid control systems to respond to changing conditions at the edge of the network.
  • Edge processing power: Embedding the computing equivalent of a smart phone in high-volume meters and grid devices brings advanced communications, data processing and analysis to the edge device, eliminating the need for this to be done in the back-office.

The ability for edge devices to know exactly where they are, process and analyze data independently, and communicate with other types of devices creates many new possibilities for improving the accuracy, resolution and timeliness of analytic applications.

A clear opportunity exists to deliver new business value in areas such as localized demand response/load control, asset monitoring and management, outage detection and response, renewables integration and diversion detection. This approach allows utilities to put intelligence where it makes the most sense, whether that’s in the field area network, in the edge device itself, or at the enterprise level, meaning analytics must no longer always take place in the back-office, where “tomorrow” or “next week” is no longer good enough.   

Perhaps most interestingly, the Itron Riva edge intelligence platform has revolutionized grid communications. Known as adaptive communications technology, this capability incorporates multiple communications media -- RF mesh, Wi-Fi and powerline carrier -- on the same chipset, working in concert to solve key network performance and connectivity challenges.

When deploying a smart grid network, utilities are faced with the difficult decision of selecting a communications technology that delivers the most reliable and cost-effective performance to the greatest number of meters and grid devices. Selecting the best communications technology for 80 or 90 percent of the meters is fairly easy; covering the last 10 percent is where the difficulties and costs arise.

With adaptive communications technology, the network utilizes the fastest and most reliable communication path for every message and every link based on location, network operating conditions and the nature of the application or data. Itron recently introduced Adaptive Communications Technology, powered by the Itron Riva platform, for the OpenWay network in select global markets.

This makes deployment of network infrastructure easier, faster and less costly, while offering a single communications solution for dense urban environments, as well as lower-density areas. Adaptive communications technology flattens the cost curve during the latter stages of network deployment when the “hard-to-reach” devices and areas must be addressed. In other words, it provides a network that continuously self-optimizes based on geography, topology, operating conditions and business requirements.  

Together, these developments mean that many utilities throughout the world are in a good position to leverage these recent and significant advancements in network architecture, edge intelligence and analytics as they implement their grid modernization strategies and connect to broader opportunities such as smart cities and internet of things.

There is absolutely no doubt that the convergence of information technology and operational technology in the global utility industry will continue and accelerate, and that technology advancement will continue to outpace the asset lifecycle paradigm utilities have so long operated within. Nevertheless, thresholds are being reached that warrant a shift in thinking about how to approach and solve problems. For tomorrow’s grid, that time is now.