5 Steps to Successful Smart Metering - 2. Choose the Right Solution
Part 2 in the series on successful smart metering. This series highlights 5 key steps to ensure smart metering projects meet their goals and requirements. These steps are:
1) Define Your Requirements (Posted here 16/01/2017)
2) Choose the Right Solution
3) Analyse Data and Gain Insight
4) Take Action to Improve Efficiency
5) Ensure On-going Success
Over the coming weeks I will be posting these steps as individual articles and then compiling them into an overarching article.
Step 2) Choose the Right Solution
There are many different products and services available in the market and it may be a steep learning curve to understand the pros and cons of each one. Once you have prioritised your use cases it is much easier to find a system that meets your needs.
Three key components to consider are hardware, software, and service.
Smart metering hardware is the electronic devices that will collect metering data, process it, and deliver it from the field to the software you use to access it. Some hardware aspects to consider are;
Leverage Existing Equipment: Do you have existing ‘dumb’ meters that could be connected to a smart metering device? Retro-fit devices are often the most economic and future-proof choice for hardware. The alternative is fully integrated meters where the electronics and communications are built directly into the meter
Data Collection Functionality: What detail of data do you need? Automated Meter Reading (AMR) systems may only collect daily totals. Enormous benefits can be gained with more detailed data e.g. identifying and quantifying water leaks
Data Delivery: How often do you need the data delivered to you? Almost all use cases can be fulfilled with data delivery from the field to your software occurring once per day. This is considered ‘near-real-time’. If any less frequent, issues such as leaks may go undetected for too long. If more frequent, battery life may reduce and operating costs increase
Communication Type: Most smart metering systems use wireless communications to deliver data from the meter. Selecting the right technology depends on your use cases. The Internet of Things (IoT) has brought the rise of new communication technologies that are well suited to smart metering. Some of these new technologies include Sigfox and LoRaWAN. These fit into the category of Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) and may be the best choice where there is greater distance between meters, or if there are a high concentration of meters in one area. More info on LPWANs can be found here. 3G may be the best choice at present if you have many sites with only a few meters at each and no LPWAN is available
Smart metering software will allow you to gain insights on the data. Visualising and interacting data is a key component of any smart metering system. Software may be bundled with the hardware or it may be sourced separately. Software may also be used for management of hardware including set-up, configuration, device performance, etc. Some software aspects to consider;
Visualisation Tools: Do you need graphs, tables, or reports? Many data display software solutions allow you to visualise data in many different ways
Automating Information: Software can reduce the time that you spend looking at data by delivering only the information you need. Reports can be created and emailed to you for some or all of your metering points. Alerts can be sent to your phone for events such as unexpected or increased usage
Integration: Some smart metering software will allow you to deliver data via email, FTP, or other methods to other software such as building management systems or sustainability reporting platforms
Hardware Management: It is greatly beneficial for smart metering software to allow you to manage your smart metering devices for status, battery level, signal strength, etc.
Export to Other Platforms: you may already have a data management platform that you wish to use. Your smart metering system should be able to send data to other platforms
The third component of the solution is service. All smart metering solutions require some degree of service. This could include hardware installation, battery replacements, software training, software as a service (SaaS), data as a service (DaaS), or ultimately a complete managed smart metering service where specialised consultants take responsibility for the smart metering system and ensure the best possible outcomes are achieved. When choosing service for your system you should consider;
Internal Capabilities: Do you have staff capable of managing your system? Is your system larges enough to justify training staff and taking on the responsibility for the system? Do you have expert data analysts, consultants, and engineers to drive the project and achieve the best possible results? Typically, a smart metering system must either have highly automated analytic software and properly trained operators who take ownership of the system in order for a user organisation to realise the full potential and achieve best results without outside help.
Capex and Opex: What will the system cost to establish and operate? Does your use case require ownership of the system, or do you simply need the outcomes? An increasingly popular model for commercial smart metering systems is Data as a Service (DaaS) where the supplier provides all hardware and equipment necessary to deliver data to the client. The client then pays as a subscription with a service level agreement. The ultimate incarnation of this popular model is an end-to-end managed service where all aspects of the smart metering are handled by outside experts. The client then receives reports, alerts and recommendations. This is often the best outcome for all parties.
Support: It is important that your system comes with necessary support to ensure you get the best results possible. Local suppliers have an advantage as they can send technicians to repair damaged parts, replace batteries, and troubleshoot complex issues that may arise. Training is essential to ensure users understand software and can interpret the information generated by the system. All large smart metering systems should have a suitable level of support maintained under a service level agreement to ensure a successful project.
These three aspects; hardware, software, and service must be considered to ensure successful smart metering.