Google the term “Technology Innovator” on the internet and in less than one second, more than 3.4 million matches arrive. Of course, the term “Technology Innovator” means different things to the vast global collection of cultures, communities and industries. In the dynamic world of utility management, acquiring the reputation of a Technology Innovator is accomplished through the consistent launch of reliable products, delivering unmatched capabilities in communication systems, and the steady commitment of keeping pace with – and embracing the challenges of – change.

No other micro-industry demands such a diverse Technology Innovator as the smart grid/AMI marketplace. From the USA and Canada to Europe and beyond, the smart grid is quickly becoming the platform from which the utility industry operates. Regulatory constraints, sustainability movements and higher expectations from consumers combine to make any successful utility one that has the foundation to grow in concert with smart grid and AMI developments.

It’s clear that Sensus, with its FlexNet communication system, is a stable fixture as the Technology Innovator in the smart grid/ AMI marketplace. Sensus meets the criterion that accompanies the title: It is a company that succeeds because it not only understands the requirements being placed upon its utility partners, but also it addresses their needs with real-world, logical solutions in the form of products and services that streamline utility operations while focusing on conservation solutions.

Sensus has installed the most smart grid applications in the world – 4 million endpoints and 200 deployments, and counting – across gas, water, and electric utilities. Bill Yeates, executive vice president of conservation solutions at Sensus, explains the widespread embrace of FlexNet.

“Our success rests with our experience. We have a proven track record in system operations, deployment, programme management, managing installation services, systems integration and customer relationship management. We have demonstrated performance and experience in the field like no other, and customers are going with a proven leader.”

The borders of smart grid and AMI aren’t stopping in North America. Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia are entering the mix as well, and Sensus is already prepared, with plans in place to service these areas with the same FlexNet products and services that North America receives.

“The communications technology of FlexNet was already on the books before the current global mindset emerged,” Yeates adds. “We saw the approaching trend, so we changed the AMI application to fit the evolving smart grid environment. Over the last few years, we have placed a greater focus on helping utilities improve in natural resource conservation as a part of their core business function.

FlexNet is the perfect tool to do that because of its reliability, its flexibility to adapt to new environments, and its minimal infrastructure.” FlexNet operates from a fixed network via a licensed spectrum, and it is inherently smart grid ready for electric, water or gas utilities. As the smart grid/AMI Technology Innovator, Sensus raises its services by establishing three pillars of conservation solutions that are built into the FlexNet system for every customer.

REDUCING THE PLANET’S CARBON FOOTPRINT
FlexNet’s minimal infrastructure – other systems need hundreds of collectors to achieve the same range that one FlexNet collector offers – eliminates carbon emissions from rolling trucks for meter reading or multiple collector maintenance. This infrastructure advantage will be even greater in Europe, where licensed band transmission power is exponentially larger than unlicensed, compared to North America, where the FlexNet licensed systems doubles the transmitting power of unlicensed providers.

As mandates to reduce carbon emissions continue to increase, demand response, aided by in home information systems, will reduce energy consumption. Sensus has taken a great communications system – one best suited for 100% geographical coverage of fixed location endpoints – and applied that solution to the problem. The result is FlexNet.

HELPING UTILITIES GET CLOSER TO CONSUMERS
Sensus brings the utility and the consumer closer together by placing more control into the consumer’s hands through real time information, thus allowing the users to choose more eco-friendly options for resource consumption. The theory is to educate consumers about peak usages based on lifestyle options, with the premise that consumers will choose eco-friendly options while also saving money.

And, the onset of electric vehicles requires utilities to manage re-charging schedules of consumers, to avoid destabilising the grid. With FlexNet, that type of assistance is attainable. The FlexNet architecture provides the solution directly or through an ecosystem of industry partners to the utility and through the utility to the customer.

FlexNet’s real time data collection allows for constant monitoring. Sensus customers routinely cite examples of how the system saved hundreds or thousands of gallons of water because the leak was detected quickly.

PROTECTING THE UTILITY’S INVESTMENT
Infrastructures are expensive and often become obsolete. FlexNet is designed to be totally upgradeable over the airwaves, from endpoint to collector to network interface. With the addition of distribution automation devices to the network, managing distributed generation and increased demand, upgradeability without a visit is the only way to ensure higher data capability as demand grows. In addition, FlexNet’s minimal infrastructure is built on carrier grade equipment standards, which allows for low cost upgrades to its system as new features and requirements demand.

“As we improve the FlexNet system, our success is dominated by our network technology. That’s our core asset from which we build, which allows our customers to witness how our evolving technology positively impacts them every day,” Yeates adds.

“We’re a zero leave-behind network,” Yeates says. “Achieving 80% coverage by others is where it ends. Getting that last 20% coverage for others is hugely expensive, but with FlexNet, that’s never an issue, because our communication to the meters is always flowing. We don’t leave any meter behind.”

PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Yeates does not hesitate to assert that within five years, FlexNet will be the dominant global provider to the smart grid, basing his argument on the unmatched reliability, flexibility, minimal infrastructure, and disaster recovery abilities of the system, “and its ability to hit every single fixed point on the planet.”

He also believes FlexNet will open doors for consumer education. “If we show people how to lower their energy consumption, whether their motivation is to protect the environment or save money, then they will do it voluntarily. Timeof- use pricing will eventually be mandated by governments, and tools like our FlexServer will help with that education.”

Sensus research and development experts are also currently collaborating with government and industry agencies to establish disaster recovery protocols, municipal lighting efficiencies, traffic flow applications and micro-generation trials. And, security is a big concern for the future, Yeates says, but Sensus is already well on its way to solutions involving interoperability with different devices within the ecosystem to enhance safety on a global scale.

“The future is today, as far as Sensus is concerned, we’re actively working to provide solutions, directly or through ecosystem partners, for any utility around the world. One immediate solution is FlexNet’s open standard. We’re compatible with any gas meter, and with any modern water meter. Our goal is to give our customers the technology that allows them to help their own consumers have consistent interface experiences with their energy usage,” Yeates says.

Sensus is actively tailoring its approach in Europe, where fundamental value propositions vary from country to country, with focus ranging from smart meters to carbon footprint reduction, to managing solar energy. Yeates says these challenges are already on the Sensus radar, and solutions are already in the works.

“In Europe, the penetration of the smart grid is minimal. Some power line carriers and public banded radio systems have been deployed, but these systems lack the features and bandwidth required under the definition of an end-to-end smart grid system,” he explains.

“In general the EU is focused on conservation, which is driving these smart grid implementations. In water, for example, many parts of Europe are not metered today or the meter is read infrequently. Monthly billing is mandated for water and gas. For electricity, demand response is critical in order to reduce peak load demand, which in turn reduces carbon emissions by allowing zero carbon technologies such as nuclear to handle the base load.

“The AMI system enables all of these attributes to be deployed. In North America smart grid deployments started out being driven by efficiency gains in the utility workforce. North America is now transitioning existing AMI deployments toward a focus on consumer education, carbon emissions, and conservation not unlike initiatives being embarked upon in Europe.”

In North America, Sensus owns a federally protected licensed spectrum, upon which the FlexNet network operates. Yeates explains that for Europe, Sensus is taking a different approach that focuses on partners.

“Our partners in Europe already own key assets, which we can leverage. They own spectrum, towers, and have expertise in deployment and management of wireless networks. The creation of these partnerships allows Sensus to focus on its core strengths in servicing the utility needs through technology without having to deploy and manage the network. Sensus is modifying its wireless technology to meet the minor differences between EU and NA standards. This is the same basic technology we have successfully deployed with more than 200 customers in North America. FlexNet, with its minimal infrastructure, redundancy, and low cost, is the perfect network solution in Europe. We plan to create standard developer kits so that manufacturers of a wide range of equipment can interface with the network. This approach, we believe, will create competition while driving innovation,” Yeates says.

“It will be very clear how we will approach these unique markets in a very efficient manner. We don’t take our reputation as being the global Technology Innovator lightly. We work every day to offer progressive solutions and reliable products that allow utilities to operate successfully on the smart grid.”