As an engineer, I love tackling challenges. Its in my blood. It’s in my blood. Whether it’s a just-for-fun riddle, a pesky engineering issue or a myth that needs mashing, I love jumping in feet first.

As a parallel to the age-old mind twister: “If a tree falls in the forest…,” my colleagues and I recently tackled this real-life challenge:

Can a purportedly “smart” advanced metering-equipped meter truly be “smart” if it can only send meter data via one transport system?

In our humble opinion, we don’t think so.

MANY LANGUAGES

Like a multi-lingual person who can speak and comprehend lots of foreign languages, a truly “smart” meter needs to be able to communicate over any network. And it should be able to change from one network to another without a whole lot of fuss. Advanced metering, after all, is supposed to be “advanced,” right?

Unlike those whose solutions lock utilities into a particular transport protocol – whether standards-based or a proprietary protocol – we were determined to build an advanced metering platform with a “flexible communications” system. We started with the simple, yet technically tricky, proposition that in addition to being meter-agnostic, our advanced metering platform must be transport-agnostic as well.

Our reasoning: Fundamentally, we believe in open architecture advanced metering that empowers utilities, not locks them in.

In our view, utilities should be able to choose among carriers based on cost and coverage area. As such, we felt a transport-agnostic platform would put utilities in the driver’s seat for negotiating the best telemetry rates with carriers. If one carrier offers more competitive rates and service, a simple modem exchange within the existing meter is all that’s needed, rather than an entire meter or board replacement.

NOW WE'RE TALKING

Our M5TM advanced metering platform can utilise both public and private networks, so utilities enjoy all the advantages of an IP-based cellular/satellite network, including full two-way, on-demand communications between the meter and our advanced metering portal (AMP).

GETTING IT FROM HERE TO THERE

At scheduled intervals (from every five minutes to once per month) an M5 platform-equipped advanced meter transfers data in real “real-time” (as few as five seconds) over any network (e.g. CDMA, iDEN, GPRS, GSM, or Satellite) to our AMP, which is hosted in our secure meter management data center (MMDC).

IP-based, the M5 platform reads meters via a polling protocol. For a C&I installation, data is collected at the meter and stored in its internal memory. The AMP polls the modem installed on our communications interface board (CIB) for required data. All events and alarms such as low battery level, outage, restoration, or power quality are monitored by the CIB’s embedded software and immediately reported back to the AMP.

Far from being data intensive, the M5 platform uses an efficient protocol to move data between a meter and the MMDC. As such, 15-minute load profile data equates to less than 300 kilobytes of data per month.

USING BLUETOOTH® WIRELESS TECHNOLOGY

A truly advanced metering platform must also have LAN capabilities. When equipped with a chipset with Bluetooth wireless technology, AMRON’s CIB enables up to 64 remote “client” meters located within 100 feet to be read directly by one “host” meter, which serves as the single wireless transport and communications link to the MMDC.

In addition to substantial savings in hardware modem costs, this type of meter network also saves on communications fees because it requires only a single WAN (cellular/satellite) carrier account. And because the M5 platform is meter-agnostic, meter networks using AMRON’s hardware with Bluetooth wireless technology are fully interoperable, allowing for streamlined communications between various meter types from different meter manufacturers.

How’s that for multi-lingual?

A FINAL WORD OR TWO…

To date, communication issues have presented the most challenging obstacles to widespread adoption of advanced metering. Cost and the prospect of being locked in to a particular transport system have stymied progress.

If you’re considering advanced metering options, don’t just settle for “smart” ones when a brilliant option already exists.

AMRON Technologies congratulates its customer, Consolidated Edison of NY, for being named by the Energy Planning Network as having the “Best Metering Initiative Using the Internet.” We are sincerely proud to be associated with you, and we look forward to continuing our relationship.