Why Smart Meter Programs Run into Roadblocks without Real-Time Data

Technology, Dev Tales, Blog posts

I recently came across an article outlining some of the challenges the Netherlands is facing with its Smart Meter program. The Netherlands is not alone in these difficulties. But with the right Enterprise Architecture that can deliver real-time data, these common roadblocks can be minimized, leaving the way open for utilities to leverage Smart Meter data for innovation, improved service quality, cost savings and energy efficiencies.

In the journey to Net Zero, one piece of technology is often underestimated, the smart meter. Smart meter programs often come up against multiple challenges leading to criticism and lack of buy-in both from consumers and energy suppliers. But often the issue is not with smart meters, but with the approach to AMI and the supporting IT infrastructure.

The world needs Net Zero. The Paris Climate agreement aims to achieve a climate neutral world by the middle of this century. The energy revolution needed to achieve this goal will rely on, renewables, efficiencies and electrification. Smart meters are critical in achieving all three. It’s time to combat the criticisms and enable smart meters to fulfil their potential.

I recently came across an article in f.d. Netherlands that highlighted some of the problems the Netherlands is facing with its smart meter program. While the issues may be specific to the country, they are common challenges faced by smart meter operators around the world. I believe these difficulties can be minimized or even eliminated when smart meters and AMI systems have the right IT systems to support them.

Smart Meter Challenges: The Story from the Netherlands

Dutch Energy Suppliers originally agreed a 1% failure rate for smart meter readings. But this rate is now running at 3.7% causing huge numbers of events and alarms for utility teams to wade through.

But this is not the only consequence. The poor flow of data is making it much harder for transmission system operators and energy suppliers to calculate and predict the amount of energy they will need to provide, putting them at risk of a large financial penalty.

It is also frustrating consumers. One of the advantages of smart meters is the ability to monitor household energy consumption so that customers can reduce their bills. In countries such as the Netherlands where smart meter installation is optional, this is surely the most compelling reason for consumers to agree to their installation.

But issues with the smart meter data in the Netherlands has resulted in readings on consumer apps frequently being several days out of date. This is far from the real-time monitoring that incentivises consumers to use the apps and agree to the installation of smart meters.

In fact, currently, many Dutch consumers do not allow the wireless transmission of their meter readings. The rollout of smart meters relies on consumer buy-in. Where there is such an unreliability of data it is difficult for both consumers and energy suppliers to see the true potential of smart meters for the energy transition.

The IT Infrastructure Challenge to Smart Meters

Real-time data is critical to leveraging the potential of smart meters, but utility IT infrastructure often struggles to deliver this.

So why is this? IT infrastructure that supports smart meters must integrate a vast array of disparate systems including Head End Systems, Meter Data Management, SCADA and other legacy systems. Without a Smart Meter Operations Center (SMOC), it’s impossible to have a holistic view of metering operations. Data ends up in silos and problems such as those we see in the Netherlands become commonplace. So much of the potential value of smart meters falls by the wayside and is wasted.

Without fully integrated data flows, managing the events and alerts for communication errors is complex and time consuming. If the process is not fully automated and the information is not easily accessible, utility IT teams cannot keep on top of faults at the speed needed and failure rates begin to creep upwards.

End-to-End Monitoring of the Smart Meter Value Chain Delivers Real-time Insights

Smart metering must be supported by an IT infrastructure that enables end-to-end monitoring of the entire meter to cash/ops value chain, providing a ‘birds eye view’ of AMI operations and services. Once an integrated, holistic view of the AMI systems is enabled, data flows from all AMI systems need to be available to IT operations staff in a user-friendly, visual interface. Once this is achieved through a Smart Meter Operations Center, many of the challenges commonly faced by smart meter operators can be overcome.

A centralized, smart meter operations center provides the real-time, end-to-end monitoring and analysis that can keep track of data transmissions. Operators are warned of any issues with integrations, data flows or APIs and problems instantly identified and dealt with.

Real-time insights are critical for monitoring metering operations so energy providers can stick to their strict Service Level Agreements. What’s more, real-time data makes the customer apps useful, helping them to monitor and reduce their energy consumption.

Organizational Barriers to Smart Meters

We recently asked our LinkedIn followers what they felt was the biggest challenge to leveraging smart meter data. Organizational barriers were identified as the greatest hindrance. Siloed knowledge and data were highlighted by some respondents as the underlying cause. This had a knock-on effect on culture and a lack of ‘collaborative mindset’.

If knowledge stays in silos, data will frequently stay in silos too, leading to poor data quality and poor digital services for customers.

A distributed data mesh can not only prevent silos, but help to deliver real-time data

Real-time Data and a Distributed Data Mesh

As more smart meters are brought online, the flow of data they produce will become a deluge. The demands of both regulators and consumers will require regular meter readings, several times an hour.

Real-time (or as close to real-time) analysis of this data not only enables smart meters to fulfil their potential of optimizing the grid for utilities, and delivering useful information to customers, but enables utilities to fulfil their regulatory obligations.

This requires an enterprise architecture that can handle large quantities of data reliably and in real-time. The architecture must also enable data sharing.

A distributed data mesh, using a modern distributed architecture approach and moving away from centralized data storage, is the best way to achieve this.

With a data mesh, that mass of data is broken down into separate streams. The data streams can be analyzed by teams or aggregated to form a view of the entire business domain.

Smart Meters are a vital ingredient when it comes to bringing more renewables into the energy mix, in helping households make efficiencies and reducing their energy consumption and in the electrification of homes and transport. But it is only through real-time data that this becomes possible. Now is the time to review the IT architecture underpinning the smart meters before the flow of data they deliver becomes a flood.

Here at Greenbird we have developed a unique approach to data integration and provisioning bringing distributed energy services onto a single energy data mesh. We do this through Utilihive, an integration platform and data lake built for digital utilities offering an enterprise architecture able to harness the full potential of smart meters. Utilihive SMOC includes rollout and installation monitoring, simulation capabilities, end-to-end monitoring of all data and integration flows and Utilihive MonAMI, an intuitive map-based energy data web application providing real-time visibility into the low/mid voltage network.