Introduction to Smart Meters
While wearable personal technology may be the most “public” face of the Internet of Everything, the most widespread use of it may be in smart meters.
What is a smart meter, exactly? It’s a meter for utilities (electricity, gas, or water) that records the consumption of the utility in question, and transmits it to the utility provider via some sort of two-way communication method. (Examples of these methods include a wireless mesh network, power line networking, or a connection to the user’s own Internet service.) Unlike simple home monitors, smart meters can collect data for remote reporting to the utility.
One smart meter in isolation has limited uses. However, if the majority of meters in an area are now “smart”, the utility is able to reap large benefits. With the added information provided by large numbers of smart meters, a utility can adjust their services as needed to improve the efficiency, reliability, costs, and sustainability of their services.
Deployment and Usage
Some may think that smart meters are more theoretical than anything else. However, they are already in widespread use in some countries, and it is easy to see how in the next few years they will become even more widespread.
Let me talk about the part of the world I know – Europe. For example, the former Italian electric monopoly, Enel, has rolled out smart meters to almost all of its 36 million customers. In addition, Enel has deployed a remote management system known as Telegestore, which allows the utility to carry out actions via the smart meter that would otherwise require a physical visit. 330 million meter readings and over a million other operations were carried out remotely, making this easier for both customers and Enel. Enel also owns 92% of the Spanish utility firm Endesa, and is rolling out similar products in that market.
Italy and Spain are not the only countries in Europe leading the way in smart meter adoption. Other countries identified by the European Union as being “dynamic movers” in smart meters include Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In these countries, regulators and utilities are both making the necessary steps to move forward with smart meter adoption.
Technical Standards and Risks
There are a diverse number of industry groups and protocols that are promoting smart meter technology. In part, this is a reflection of the varying ways that smart meters are deployed and used: for different applications, different technology may be needed. However, this also means that there a wide variety of technical standards used in smart meters.
Other such niche devices – such as home automation equipment and Internet routers – have proven to have serious security risks. It’s one thing to have, say, a light switch have some sort of vulnerability. It’s another thing for utility meters and controls to have vulnerabilities. Smart meters and smart grids have not yet been fully tested and vetted for potential security risks; we have to consider the potential scenarios if these devices are proven to have flaws – as some of them inevitably well.
The video below highlights some of these potential scenarios. In future blog posts, we will look into some of these scenarios in some detail and discuss the circumstances that can lead into these issues.