Meters of every kind – electricity, hot and cold water, gas and those read automatically using AMR technology – require improved lithium battery technology to fulfil the services offered to or needed by utility companies. These services, such as intra-day readings of consumption patterns, equipment tampering notices, maximum current and flow meter operation, are just a few of the opportunities available which will improve the management of utility resources, increase revenues and decrease the cost of operations.

As a result, this advancement in battery technology provides the metering industry with a flexible billing system and a wider range of adapted services for their customers.

The newest generations of meters are becoming more and more complex. They require high current pulses at periodic intervals, with little or no background current between signal transmissions. The failure of the battery can disrupt the billing process and result in costly maintenance operations. Lithium thionyl chloride batteries are generally preferred to power these meters, because of the batteries’ high energy density and long life.

Figure 1

Depending on the application specifications, the life of these batteries can be up to 15 years. Lithium thionyl chloride batteries also feature high voltage (3.6V), wide temperature range (-60°C/+85°C), low self-discharge rate and excellent safety characteristics (UL recognised).

What is expected from batteries?

  • Power the meter (i.e. the microprocessor, the electronic LCD and eventually the prepayment unit).
  • Provide the memory back-up for LED display, real time clock, etc., in the event of power failure.
  • Power remote reading modules.
  • Power meter accessories (shut-down valve) or auxiliary devices, part of the metering process (gas correctors, data concentrators, meter reading repeaters, just to name a few).
  • Depending on local certification rules, the batteries are expected to operate from five to ten years or more.

Deregulation is currently a buzzword in the utility business. This restructuring and privatisation process, which started in the early 1990s, is spreading and changing the old business structure of having supply, transport and distribution integrated in utilities, with a national or regional monopoly. The advent of deregulation enables different players to give the end-use customers the freedom to choose their suppliers – suppliers which can provide all these services. This has forced the utility industry to be increasingly customer-oriented, offering better services as a whole – a powerful move that is one of the main drivers behind the enhanced technology development of lithium batteries.

The private companies in charge of the utility business are forced to manage it proactively, since this business deals with high-energy figures. A mistake in the chain could mean a large loss of revenue, time and resources for utility companies, as well as leading to discontent on the part of the end-users. AMR and utility meter manufacturers are key players in this new structure. As they integrate more and more functions and features into their equipment, manufacturers must work closely with battery producers to ensure that the battery technologies keep up with the new requirements. The main objective for increased technology advancements within the battery industry is more customer-oriented services requiring rapid product enhancements and life cycle cost reduction.