Panasonic is launching a suite of smart gas technologies for utilities in Europe as they move to complete their smart meter rollouts.
With momentum growing for a final push to meet smart meter mandates across the region, attention is turning increasingly to smart gas metering, which has tended to lag smart electricity metering in most countries.
In its most recent benchmarking, the EU’s Joint Research Centre estimated that in 2020, approximately 31 million smart meters would be in place, accounting for just over one-quarter of all gas metering points. By 2024, 51 million smart meters are projected, increasing the penetration close to 45%.
Into this burgeoning market, Panasonic steps with a suite of new products and services, building on the company’s experiences in other geographies, particularly in Japan. Billed as a ‘one-stop solution from devices to data analysis’, these include the meters and metering infrastructure, a connectivity service and a Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT) AMR cloud service.
The main barrier to smart gas metering in Europe has been the business case. However, rising gas prices and the need for more efficient use of gas along with the increasing digitalisation of utility operations and the opportunity to add new smart meter-based services are tipping the balance.
Smart gas meters are required to operate with a high level of reliability with low power consumption for an extended period of time in the field.
Accordingly, in recent years, the adoption of power-saving communication networks has been accelerated, mainly based on the NB-IoT that uses base stations operated by communication carriers.
However, this also has given rise to business complexities such as the handling of contracts with multiple communication carriers to cover all meters.
Panasonic’s services, which are being launched initially in Italy, are designed to overcome these issues and to streamline the implementation and operation of smart gas metering from deployment in the field to meter reading to network management.
So far only a few countries in Europe have started large scale smart gas metering deployments. With these services, the company hopes to support its further implementation including the development of the underlying regulation.
Advanced gas services
Panasonic’s new offerings include gas meters, controllers with integrated 169MHz band and NB-IoT communication functions and analytics-based services that utilise data transmitted by the smart meters and indicate recommended actions.
The four sensor-based monitoring services are RF communication, battery status, pressure and leak status and valve status, with each able to be mapped across the utility’s service area.
The monitoring of the communication status of each meter enables the identification of the root causes of a communication failure and the rapid recovery to normal operation. In addition, the communication power can be monitored and controlled to extend the battery life.
The batteries are designed to last for their regulated lifetime, typically 15 years in most countries, and monitoring enables life forecasting and exchange planning.
Continuous pipeline and meter pressure monitoring allows for the near real-time detection and management of anomalies, including gas leaks, and for example the management of seasonal adjustments, with improvement in supply for end-users.
In the case of automatic valve shut-off due to leakage, extreme weather or a natural disaster such as an earthquake, the service maps the status of the gas meters, with the aim to support safe and efficient valve re-opening and event recovery.
Earthquakes are common in Japan and Panasonic has drawn on its experience there to refine its sensor technologies to detect these events and the safety technologies such as valve mechanisms to shut off the gas. These can only be created by a manufacturer in an earthquake-prone country, the company believes.
For utilities looking ahead, an ultrasonic measurement unit is under development for meters for hydrogen blends in gas up to 20% which will be available during 2022, while a meter for 100% hydrogen is expected by 2024-25.
With these further applications will be added to the service offerings, such as hydrogen calorific content monitoring.
The basis of the connectivity service, which is available to utilities for retrofitting and to meter manufacturers for new installations, is an embedded SIM (eSIM) system to enable NB-IoT connectivity. The system provides flexibility by selecting the optimum communication carrier network avoiding lock-in to one.
Moreover, the contract complexity for gas companies is reduced and instead of individual contracts with communication carriers, a single contract is managed through Panasonic for their service area.
NB-IoT AMR cloud service
Automated meter reading becomes possible simply by adding an external NB-IoT interface to an existing gas meter. By specifying an individual ID and data extraction period for a gas meter, the target meter’s reading data and anomaly detection data will be output from a centrally managed database in the cloud.
Benefits of the service, which can be retrofitted to existing gas meters, include efficient system development and improved troubleshooting with the integrated hardware, connectivity and system solution.
A field trial is underway in Spain prior to installation with the first customer.
“Our solutions are designed to improve efficiency and process acceleration and being network operator agnostic, will support utilities in proceeding with their projects smoothly,” the company says.
“In the years ahead, Panasonic will contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases through the efficient use of energy resources by making efforts to evolve its gas meter devices with a focus on safety technologies as well as developing and providing unique services that effectively leverage its strengths.”