Smart meters bring IoT to the grid edge

Smart Meter


Electric meters measure how much electrical energy is used at an address; the utility company bills the owner of the address according to the amount of energy used. Once in a while, a person wearing high-viz gear comes by to read the meter. If there’s an outage, people call the utility company; the wait to speak to someone is long, because everyone else affected is calling at the same time. The utility company doesn’t yet know what the problem is, but trucks have been deployed.

These scenarios will be eliminated through the deployment of grid edge technology featuring the latest smart meters.

The electrical grid includes every wire and component leading up to the metering point located outside the establishment of a customer; at that point, all wires and components in the building are owned by the customer, so the grid edge refers to the metering point.

“People started talking about grid edge technology to reference the increased capability moving out to the energy end-user,” says Dan Jacobson, Senior Marketing Manager, Landis+Gyr—a leading global provider of integrated energy management solutions for the utility sector. “There is a lot more happening at the edge of the grid—at the distribution point—than ever before. Before it was all about counting energy use for billing purposes, but now AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) capabilities allows for the automation of load control devices, the automation of quality metrics and analytics being used from data collection, remote disconnect, and reconnect from the utility office, and outage detection. These capabilities came into existence with the first wave of AMI.”


The next wave of advanced infrastructure

The first wave of AMI allowed utilities to receive notifications of events and alerts; if a customer is out of power, that information feeds the utility’s OMS (outage management system), which helps the utility respond more quickly. They also help with preventative maintenance, because meters have begun reporting blink counts, which tells the utility if any elements are causing momentary interruptions in power. Today, AMI technology has evolved to bring IoT capabilities, along with more computing power and decision making, to the grid edge.

“The reason the utilities and the industry started talking about the grid edge is that there is the next wave of AMI coming and the meters are beginning to approach the intelligence level of smartphones or remote-computing devices,” says Jacobson. “Our next generation smart meter—Revelo—offers a Linux operating system, so you can now download apps and have the meter do new things. You can even set it to participate in the decision-making tree at the grid edge.” 

Revelo combines the qualities of a smart meter with a grid edge sensor. Grid edge sensors stream waveform data, so Revelo constantly looks at the power from both sides of the meter. Apps running on Revelo can use this streaming waveform data to divine anomalies, learn signatures of different devices, know what steady state is, and when things change. And, not only does it see issues but it recognizes through digital signatures what these issues signify.

“So, now activity doesn’t hinge on the utility crunching numbers in a back office; action can start taking place at the grid edge,” says Jacobson. “When you have both the intelligence and the capability to make decisions at the grid edge, action can happen faster.”


Third-party energy management

Among the apps that can run on Revelo is a home energy management app from Sense. This company currently offers its energy monitor direct to consumers with a device that gets installed into a customer’s breaker box. It uses algorithms coupled with waveform streaming to look at the energy signatures of everything at an address and correlate it to an app on your phone or computer, so you can view the real-time activity of every energy-using device in your home.

“A Sense case study describes a customer who complained about high energy bills to his utility company. And the company, through the use of this technology, was easily able to determine a heat pump on the premises was malfunctioning in such a way that was causing it to run inefficiently. The customer fixed the pump and fixed his high energy bills,” says Jacobson. ”It’s a prime example of the technology that Revelo enables for energy providers.”

According to Jacobson, there is a night-and-day difference between the levels of granularity you get with waveform compared to cycling through the load or demand that normally goes on in these meters. This millisecond look at all of the cycles coming through from both sides of the meter aids in power quality, preventive maintenance, and desegregation of load.

“When it comes to balancing the load utilities have traditionally not had the insights with what is happening with appliances. By being able to read all of the energy signatures of all the devices, utility companies can, if their power load is peaking, turn off or change setpoints on devices to decrease pressure on distribution circuits, the substation, or the whole network. It’s not a blunt instrument method to balancing the load. There are more options on the table.”


Alexa, turn off my solar panels

“One of the advantages to virtual assistants, such as Alexa, is it can send commands to IoT devices, so you see people using Alexa to program their thermostats, interact with their doorbell, and automate light fixtures,” says Jacobson. “And, there are opportunities to tie this in with some of the consumer apps coming in; you may be able to access a variety of energy data energy use with a voice assistant or get high usage alert, for instance.”

Jacobson also sees scenarios for virtual assistants to inform you when your electric vehicle is fully charged, so you don’t have to go out to the garage to check. And, he sees how routing energy information through a virtual assistant can save time compared to logging into a customer information portal on a phone or computer. But, there are limitations on how devices can and will interact.

“It’s not like Alexa doesn’t have any energy management capabilities, but to enhance them, you have to connect your electric devices to the internet,” says Jacobson. “With Revelo and the Sense app, when I’m away from my residence, I can check whether I’ve accidentally left any appliances on. I can also check to see if the garage door is open or closed. As more IoT devices come online, the opportunity for consumers to automate tasks and remotely control these devices will provide a boost for consumer participation in energy management.”


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