Coming to a meter near you - Wireless metering is on the increase and is expected to enable a range of new and exciting application areas
The use of communications in metering applications is growing at an incredible rate, as strong collaboration within the industry from both wired and wireless technology providers is putting the ‘smart’ in to smart metering. There is now clear and mutual support between technology specialists such as the HomePlugPowerline Alliance, the ZigBee Alliance and the WiFi Alliance, as well as application experts including the IPSO Alliance targeting the ‘internet of things’, and the SunSpec Alliance whose goal is to standardise the data and communications interoperability of renewable energy technology.Each of these organisations are development partners for the ZigBee Smart Energy V2.0 standard, and this unprecedented level of cooperation means smart metering is now positioned as a long term solution to measuring and controlling energy consumption more effectively.
While each technology plays an important role, a significant driver for wireless metering is the benefits it brings for all concerned; utility companies actively support smart energy solutions because it helps them meet their commercial and legislative obligations, while the consumer receives more control over the way they use energy. Through the continued efforts of the industry via initiatives such as the ZigBee Alliance, wireless metering holds even greater potential. The flexibility of the protocols enables ZigBee modules to be used in new application areas where information is exchanged securely between different types of devices – today applications are largely focused on domestic and commercial electricity meters but use-cases such as electric vehicle charging and micro-generation are gaining ground.
As the consumption of energy moves out of buildings and into communal areas and private vehicles, new standards and the technologies to implement them will inevitably incorporate wireless solutions such as those promoted by the ZigBee Alliance. The International Society of Automotive Engineers is another development partner of the ZigBee Smart Energy standard, highlighting the important role wireless metering is expected to play in the near future of personal transport.
Adopters of wireless metering technology today are gaining early insights in to the direction the wireless metering market is heading and, as standards evolve, will be in a position to rapidly move in to new application areas, taking full advantage of the experience they acquire across horizontal markets.
A key enabler of this megatrend towards wired and wireless metering applications is the underlying technology. At every level of the supply chain, manufacturers are putting more resources in to developing smart energy solutions, such as those provided by integrated device manufacturers such as Ember and Cirrus Logic. Engineering specialists like developing innovative solutions using these smart energy devices, for example, ByteSnap Design have integrated a ZigBee radio and a sophisticated analogue front-end to provide a turn-key smart energy module targeting metering and control applications; the ZMM-01. This joins the growing number of products certified by the ZigBee Alliance, details of which are available to view on the Alliance’s website.
The ability to retrofit smart energy solutions will be critical during the foreseeable future and, here, many OEMs have already released certified products that are designed to replace conventional devices (such as power outlets), or provide a method of displaying the information the standard enables, such as smart thermostats. Others still target home automation or the implementation of a smart home network, while modules such as the ZMM-01 offer the flexibility for ODMs and system integrators to create their own devices that are essentially, certified by design.
Many utility companies are in the process of deploying wireless metering solutions, with a view to installing smart meters in the near future. Coupled with the combination of legislation and consumer expectation, this is creating opportunities throughout the supply chain. For system integrators, this represents the first step in a new application area that is expected to cover not only domestic and commercial energy consumption, but the potentially enormous sector of energy measurement and control within towns and cities, covering electric vehicle charging, street lighting and other centrally managed resources.
Dunstan Power is a Director of ByteSnap Design, a specialist in innovative embedded hardware and software design. The company is a Microsoft Silver Partner and won the 2010 West Midlands ICT Excellence Award for its lightweight UI framework SnapUI. ByteSnap Design has one of the most experienced Windows CE teams in Europe and client projects range from control systems for autonomous vehicles to combined hardware and software designs for intrinsically safe devices