By Michael Longrie, Director, Product Management, Elster

Five years down the road, what will your smart grid look like? What measurement and sensing devices will you need on the grid? What critical data will you capture to make key business and operational decisions? If you don’t know, you’re not alone. The smart grid is in its infancy and technology is evolving quickly. What’s more, there is no single system or supplier that will deliver the entirety of the smart grid. You’ll need software and hardware from a variety of suppliers that are seamlessly integrated to enable the smart grid. Flexibility will be critical.

This may sound intimidating, but it’s not. It just means that a comprehensive smart grid strategy should be approached holistically from the top down taking into account current and future system needs to enable a resilient grid capable of serving all consumers reliably and efficiently.

A key part of a smart grid system strategy will likely include the use of “distributed intelligence.” Think of distributed intelligence as a tool to streamline your decision-making process throughout your network allowing you to efficiently manage your grid. With it, you can leverage the brains – or processing power – embedded in devices throughout your network. That, in turn, gives you greater scalability, efficiency and adaptability.


Spreading the smarts around
According to PC Magazine’s online encyclopedia, distributed intelligence “refers to separating the processing in a large system into multiple subsystems or extracting certain processing functions from the main system and placing them into separate machines.” In the smart grid, distributed intelligence means leveraging the processing power of smart meters and other connected devices to distribute decision-making closer to the source. Networked communications with these intelligent devices is an important foundation of a smart grid and will help enable more informed operational decisions.

In Elster’s EnergyAxis Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system, it supports numerous communications options to connect the utility’s head-end system with connected measurement and sensing elements on the grid. Typical deployment scenarios can include direct connection of an endpoint device, or a tiered approach where a wireless local area network pools data for communication through a gateway and/or router device. In the EnergyAxis System these gateways are called gatekeepers and do much more than route information from connected meters and sensors. Gatekeepers also make network and data management decisions. This decisionmaking ability is “distributed intelligence.”

Here are some examples. If an endpoint device is unable to transmit its data, the gatekeeper automatically re-attempts the reading without having to wait on instructions from the EnergyAxis Management system. This improves system performance and reduces required operational oversight. Likewise, the gatekeeper can automatically manage multiple data collection schedules and filter nuisance alarms reducing unnecessary network traffic. In addition, gatekeepers allow for message prioritization, which facilitates efficient routing of on-demand smart grid activities, such as operating a service switch or communicating time sensitive information to utility business systems.

How might the automatic management of multiple data collection schedules benefit a utility? Suppose you have 1,000 meters linked to a gatekeeper, and 50 of these meters are at the end of a circuit where a potential low-voltage condition exists. A gatekeeper can be configured to collect usage information hourly on all the meters but, additionally, EnergyAxis can collect voltage readings every few minutes from the 50 meters you want to monitor more closely. All of this is done with minimal or no involvement from utility personnel.

This is just the start too. As utilities experience the benefits of distributed intelligence, even more applications will be created to take advantage of EnergyAxis’ remote processing capabilities.

Is it real or is it Powerpoint?
Today, many companies bill themselves as the one-stop-shop solution for the smart grid. They’ll tell you that your entire smart grid can be built with their hardware, software and communications solutions alone. But, is that fact or just PowerPoint marketing? Remember, the smart grid is more than meters. It is comprised of sensors, control points, consumer devices and software systems supplied by a variety of solution providers. It is highly unlikely that the smart grid will be made up of a single company’s solution set. Instead, multiple systems and devices will interoperate to enable the smart grid.

For the smart grid to be truly smart, it must support multiple technologies seamlessly, and it must be able to leverage the intelligence of devices that are deployed within it. This is where the distributed intelligence enabled in systems like EnergyAxis deliver the efficient decision-making capability required in a smart grid system solution.

I invite you to learn more about EnergyAxis and how it is streamlining decision-making and creating efficient operations today at more than 60 utilities worldwide by visiting