The days of smart meter networks that use one communication technology to do one thing are behind us. At least, that’s one conclusion to draw from several large-scale smart meter contracts awarded in the past few weeks.
On Tuesday, smart meter networking company Trilliant and communications provider Alcatel-Lucent announced a win with Washington Gas Light Co. to bring high-speed, wide-area communications to the utility’s 1.1-million customer natural gas distribution network in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. It’s a debut for the two companies’ combined comms platform, featuring Alcatel-Lucent’s new service aggregation router integrated with Trilliant’s SecureMesh wide area network.
On Monday, Itron and Cisco announced that Brazilian utility Eletrobras will deploy Itron’s OpenWay Riva technology, in conjunction with Telefonica and Siemens, across six of its subsidiary distribution companies. The Itron Riva platform uses both IPv6 mesh wireless and powerline carrier (PLC) to ensure data can reach meters and other end nodes, whether over the air or across the same wires that carry electrical current.
And last month, Silver Spring Networks announced it’s working with Mexico City utility Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) and partners Tecnologías EOS and Elster to network smart meters confined in locked cabinets for about 140,000 customers. This cabinet approach, popular in places where utilities are trying to prevent meter tampering and energy theft, taps Silver Spring’s Gen4 communications suite to ensure connectivity through cement walls and into basement metering rooms.
“These are challenging areas to network in some cases,” said Josh Roper, Silver Spring’s vice president of product management for advanced metering infrastructure. “But we’ve proven our technology in high-rise buildings, in meter rooms, in multi-dwelling units in San Francisco, in Chicago, in Miami, in Singapore. […] We’ve not had to make any incremental enhancements on the networking side to support this.”
All three of these projects represent activity in growth areas for smart meter companies struggling with slowdowns in U.S. and European electricity metering deployments. In the United States, natural gas and water utilities haven’t deployed as many smart meters, providing more opportunities for new contracts. But they also come with challenges not faced in the electricity meter business, including the need to communicate with battery-powered endpoints.
And emerging markets like Latin America and Asia are being targeted by all of the big smart meter and grid networking providers. Unlike U.S. and European smart meter deployments, which rely on cutting meter-reading costs as a key return on investment, emerging markets are largely focused on reducing energy theft to pay off metering costs. In Silver Spring’s project with CFE, “the goal of the project is for loss reduction -- that’s the primary business driver,” Roper said.
But today’s smart meter networks are also meant to support future use cases down the road, which makes technology flexibility important. In the case of Eletrobras, the utility is initially targeting “energy diversion detection,” but will later expand to improve transformer load management and outage detection and analysis. And in Mexico City, Silver Spring is linking smart meter data with countertop displays from Tecnologías EOS that will give customers visibility into their energy data.