3 Considerations for Utilities Updating Smart Meter Technology
By Marco Stracuzzi
May 17, 2021
By Marco Stracuzzi
May 17, 2021
Many utilities around the globe are already in their second or third generation of smart meters. Updating is a complex process involving production and design support, logistics and field maintenance plans. They must replace thousands or millions of smart meter IoT devices and make crucial decisions about cellular protocols and connectivity options.
Utilities have three major considerations to consider when updating their smart meter technology:
The first critical choice a utility must make is between pursuing a private or public network strategy. Does the company want to rely on a public network, or do they want a network dedicated to their energy grid, provided, of course, that spectrum and infrastructure are available? There are pros and cons to each strategy. Still, many utilities recognize the benefits of private networks that give them complete control and, with that, better reliability and enhanced privacy and security. Private networks also promise better long-term availability because they can be kept running as long as needed rather than being subject to a service providers’ agenda.
A utility could also rely on a technology partner to build and manage a private dedicated network on their behalf. This choice is a hybrid between a fully public and fully owned network solution, and it yields some of the benefits of each. An example could be a utility relying on a network operator to provide a dedicated network for its energy grid.
Utilities have a second essential choice to make between standard and proprietary technologies. Again, there are pros and cons with each option. Standard meter technology is backed by a vast ecosystem of industry stakeholders. It is more likely to be available globally and for a long time since cellular standards are continuously maintained and upgraded for years. Proprietary technology often has specialized features but is strictly related to the strategy of the company that owns its intellectual property and to the geographies where it is deployed. Standards are a clear frontrunner in this debate because they are more broadly available worldwide and provide much better data security assurance. However, not all standards offer the same guarantees. Utility companies are wise to explore the history and future possibilities for each standard and choose one that is likely to provide the needed long-term support across all critical operating dimensions.
When a utility deploys millions of smart meters, it must ensure efficient remote management tools to monitor what is happening and detect and mitigate problems quickly through the full life cycle of the project. These management tools must allow utilities to remotely monitor, diagnose, upgrade and fix issues at any time without the need for expensive truck rolls to avoid wasting time and costs.
The best way for utilities to approach these choices is by talking to a trusted advisor who is knowledgeable about utility operations and can partner with other ecosystem providers to bring a solution through testing certifications, deployment and maintenance. You’re not simply choosing a supplier for a meter and grid. You’re connecting with a strategic partner for a collaboration that will last at least a decade and, among other things, will work with you and your other partners through certifications and compliance approvals at regulatory commissions with different country and local governments. Look for a partner — like Telit — with experience supporting large-scale device installations in the energy sector and can provide adequate technical and supply chain support for smart meter deployment.