Avnet Asia Associate Director Sambit Sengupta says despite strong emphasis across Asia to make an effort to transition towards smart energy, monitoring utility usage needs greater scrutiny. To this end, Sengupta shares his thoughts on current trends in Smart Energy Measurement.
By Sambit Sengupta
When we talk about Smart Energy Measurement (SEM), we are referring to how we can utilize technology to ascertain the amount of gas, water, electricity, and heat resources we use. Some countries, including Singapore, do not have an abundant natural supply of essential resources, such as water, and instead rely on imports from neighbouring countries.
Smart meters convey accurate, clear information about energy use measurements, and this brings benefits to both the utility providers and their customers. By harnessing tools like the internet of things (IoT), overall efficiency of smart meters can be further enhanced. Even over 4G or NB-IoT connections, smart meters can be used to measure and report energy consumption so that utilities and energy distributors are able to manage their supply and demand in real time. However, we shouldn’t just think of SEMs as being limited to measurement applications. Increasingly, they are being used to for communication, especially between meters and data concentrators, as well as cloud infrastructures.
Emerging trends and challenges
Recently, there has been increased demand for products which can more accurately bill customers. Utilities distributors have found that traditional methods of measuring are no longer accurate enough, and both consumers and energy providers are losing out due to inherent inaccuracies.
For example, current metering strategies fail to yield high results. They only provide 60% billing accuracy, meaning that consumers are undercharged, and utility providers are losing money. Consumers themselves are asking for better transparency around billing, too. As well as being undercharged, they are often overcharged. Better transparency would help consumers understand exactly for what services they are being charged.
Furthermore, in some residential areas, bill avoidance is another issue for suppliers. This could be a result of payment tactics like prepayment or credit, which reduce the need for providers to have cut-off tariffs for defaulters. And if utility providers are offering prepayment or credit services, then billing accuracy is key.
Another trend we are seeing is multifaceted applications for residential and commercial areas, both of which have different distribution needs. Depending on the area, it will create its own unique data patterns, analysis, and insights. A commercial factory will need a steady flow of energy throughout the year, whereas a housing estate may only need extra energy at peak times, such as before people head out to work in the morning.
Suppliers can determine how much energy they need to distribute based on the measurement data they have collected, helping them to manage supply and demand more effectively. Also, they can balance the load system by using the same data because supply and demand can be determined at a precise time.
In Asia and beyond, there have been calls for more sustainable, cost-effective energy management infrastructure. Players across all industries should be focusing on reducing their carbon footprints, and large amounts of energy are needed from grids simply to monitor how energy is being distributed. This has led to an increased need for centralized grids and management systems—specifically within cloud infrastructure.
By harnessing digital access and management, a smaller environmental footprint can be achieved. Furthermore, with digital and cloud infrastructure, measurement security can be improved as it is much harder to access and tamper with digital meters as opposed to traditional, physical equipment.
How smart energy management solutions may help
First and foremost, smart metering provides accurate billing, achieving up to 90% accuracy when SEM modules are deployed. This includes setting parameters, such as tariffs, billing timing, and cut-off timings. Implementing smart metering also makes it easier for distributors to offer prepayment options or credit payment methods because accurate meter reading is available in real-time and on demand. On the reverse side, more accurate tariff implementation could also mean sharper cut-off periods for defaulters.
A further reason why SEM solutions are useful is because they have robust applications. For example, smart metering can be used to monitor abnormal data patterns and immediately identify areas where energy is being lost. In turn, this leads to better service and more accurate billing. The measurements can then be utilized to develop tailored reports.
Furthermore, advanced technology, such as AI, can then predict consumption patterns for more effective energy distribution. The use of modules could also help monitor equipment performance, and identify faults that are causing energy wastage. SEM will also enable the better management of load systems as tariffs will be based on timing on demand.
SEM leads to more sustainable operations and cost efficiency. This is best seen in the development of smart grids through cloud infrastructure. These grids are cleaner, safer, more sustainable, and are better able to address national and global requirements for reducing carbon emissions. They also offer advanced system monitoring, which reduces the risk of cyberattacks.
Ultimately, energy management is changing as the world embraces digitalization. By adopting SEM technology, energy suppliers, distributors, and end users are in for a better deal. Accuracy will be improved, transparency enhanced, safety increased, and, perhaps most importantly, the energy industry at large will be paving the way towards a greener, more sustainable future.