From smart metering to home area network

From smart metering to home area network

Beaujard Sierra Wireless

Olivier Beaujard Sierra Wireless

Olivier Beaujard, vice president for market development at Sierra Wireless, on super communication highways that allow real time energy consumption monitoring, better billing and customer profiling.

Smart Grid is about transforming the way electricity is generated, distributed and consumed. By replacing antiquated electricity delivery systems with a secure, end to end communications infrastructure, it will be possible to achieve reduced consumption, higher efficiencies, and better diagnostics controls and forecasting.

With smart metering deployments, energy meters are able to reliably and securely communicate information with a central location. The availability of metering information in real time allows accurate meter reading, improved billing, and energy management through customer profiling.

There are several types of network technologies that can be used for a smart metering deployment. It can be done using point to point wireless wide area network (WWAN) technology, or through a concentrator that is connected to several meters using RF Mesh radio or power line carrier (PLC) technology.

 

Technology challenges

Several technology challenges need to be addressed to match the specific requirements of smart meters in terms of reliability and life span of a deployment.

WWAN cellular wireless technologies have been driven by the mobile phone (consumer devices) market. For instance, the removable plastic SIM cards are designed for mobile phones, with consumer device lifetime and usage patterns in mind.

Smart meter communication devices need to stay online for five, 10 or 15 years. They must be designed to industrial grade to meet extreme environmental conditions of shock, corrosion, temperature, vibration and humidity to which consumer SIM cards are not exposed. The only solution to cope with smart metering constraints is an embedded SIM, which is a fully industrialised and personalised SIM solution that removes the plastic packaging from a conventional SIM card, integrating the SIM function into the wireless module itself at a component level.

During the 10 to 15 years life span of a smart meter communication device, it might be necessary to upgrade the protocol stack to be compliant with the latest wireless communication infrastructure and future requirements. To be cost effective and flexible enough, this maintenance process has to be done over-the-air, through secure and efficient device management services.

 

Security challenges

consumer privacy, increase confidence and ensure that jamming the system or shutting down energy distribution is not possible. 

Usage of encryption protocols (such as SSL encryption, a cryptographic protocol used in the payment industry) and authentication processes are mandatory to prevent hackers from accessing sensitive data or from uploading malicious software or turning meters on and off. A jamming detection system is also needed to avoid criminals taking the wireless connectivity down.

 

Market trends

The 3G wireless networks in place today, in which major network operators continue to make significant investment to move forward to 4G wireless networks, act as an ideal ramp for the electric super highway.

Secure broadband wireless technology is required to accelerate the monitoring of millions of homes and enterprises with the ultimate objective of empowering users to control and curb their usage. Improved insight into customer usage allows utilities to better pinpoint outages and reroute power more efficiently, which translates into better customer service.

These super communication highways that allow real time energy consumption monitoring, better billing and customer profiling will create new capabilities to offer additional services. 

Smart metering projects will drive the deployment of home area network (HAN). For example, by connecting the energy meter and other devices in the home into a HAN, services linked to home security and home management are emerging. It will also become possible to remotely control home devices (such as heaters and air conditioning) and monitor any events or alarms (such as intrusion or fire). 

This HAN will monitor all the home and family assets and devices across a central system and it will also connect the different family members together and become the core of the family connection network.

Sierra Wireless is expanding the wireless world with a comprehensive offering of hardware, software, and connected services for mobile lifestyles and machine to machine communications. www.sierrawireless.com