Wireless Communication Technologies and Meters

Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technology enables connectivity between meters and utilities, and as smart meters are deployed, the ability for consumers and utilities to control energy consumption becomes a reality. From my perspective, having a consumer’s smartphone become a de facto “in-home” display is nothing short of transformational. You’ll be able to adjust your home’s thermostat from anywhere and you’ll also be able to authorize your utility to adjust your home—or office’s—energy levels for you. For a utility to utilize the smart grid to shift energy demand is a huge deal.

This ability enables utilities to provide dynamic pricing—rates that vary throughout the day based on fluctuations in the cost of power (for example, if you run your dishwasher at 7pm, it may cost more than if you run it at 11pm.) The more able utilities are to spread power usage evenly throughout the day, the less energy they’ll need to produce or purchase, the fewer plants they’ll need and the more reliable service will become. And while there has been some backlash around the cost of deploying smart meters ($200 to $500 per meter), utilities will no doubt make up those initial costs by employing a lot fewer meter readers.

Another cost saver to the utility and to the consumer will be the cost saved by a reduction in the “truck rolls” required to connect and disconnect electric service, such as when a person moves in and out of a new residence. Utilities will be able to utilize the smart grid to connect or disconnect service. Onsite visits won’t be necessary. This reduction in truck rolls will reduces carbon emissions and fuel usage.

There will be additional savings as smart meters make consumers more knowledgeable energy-users. With utilization data literally at their fingertips, they’ll know more about their energy expenditures and be able to make adjustments accordingly.

However, promises of better service and price savings haven’t made smart meters an easy sell. Part of the problem is that many utilities haven’t done a good job of educating their consumers. Smart meter deployment hit 25 percent of U.S. residential accounts this year, but many consumers don’t know much about it. In addition to a lack of knowledge, there is the very real problem of smart grid cyber security. According to Pike Research, $21 billion will be spent on smart grid cyber security between the years 2008 and 2015. Lockheed Martin’s general manager of Energy and Cyber Services, Kenneth Van Meter, in an interview by SmartPlanet, claimed that by the end of 2015, “We will have 440 million new hackable points on the grid,” because “every smart meter,” he says, “is going to be a hackable point.”

While I don’t agree with Van Meter that every smart meter is a hackable point, AT&T, along with companies like IBM, Motorola, Inc., T-Mobile, and Cooper Power Systems, are working to make the smart grid robust, collaborative and secure. These companies and several others support SmartSynch’s GridRouter EcoSystem, an interoperable, IP-based communications network for utilities that enables quick “plug and play” deployments while also offering unparalleled latency and throughput. The GridRouter EcoSystem, established late in 2009, is the industry’s first universal smart grid communications solution that supports multiple and simultaneous communication networks (commercial and private) and connectivity to any smart grid device.

The key for AT&T and any other company in the smart grid space is to provide highly secure and reliable communication networks. While the smart grid is still in its infancy, it will soon move beyond meter reads and into a two-way, interactive and real-time relationship between customers and utilities. When it does, an increasing amount of data will need to be transmitted, managed and stored. Joseph Welch, President and Chief Executive Officer, ITC Corporation put it this way: “Once we start the transformation of that high-voltage grid, it will be analogous to what happened in the country after we built the interstate highway system. We will start to do commerce in the electric space totally differently that the way we do it today.”

While smart grid and smart meter deployment isn’t without its issues, I agree with Joseph Welch. What are your thoughts?
Rita Mix Utility Industry Lead Marketing Manager AT&T About Rita