Why Singapore needs to get smart about metering

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For such a technology titan, Singapore can be considered a laggard in smart metering infrastructure deployment.

While the US kick-started its initial rollout as early as 2006, Singapore began deployment in 2017. It also set a low bar in its initial target – 1.5 million installations over seven years. And by March this year, it had only completed 500,000.
“Singapore has opted for a more conservative rollout schedule than the majority of nationwide deployments,” says Michael Kelly, senior research analyst with Guidehouse Insights.

“Mirroring Australia’s [outside of Victoria] national rollout, smart meters are installed at new customer premises or when analogue meters are due for replacement. However, customers do have the ability to opt-in to smart metering prior to their scheduled meter replacement date by paying a one-time fee of $40.”

Today, the majority of residential customers use cumulative meters which retailers come to read once every two months and employ estimated monthly billing using metrics approved by the Energy Market Authority.
This means it is either the utility that charges more, or the consumer that is charged less.

For the few customers with a smart meter, the utility’s charges are based on half-hourly intervals and on actual energy usage.

Stephen Chakerian, senior research analyst at Northeast Group, believes Singapore’s AMI rollout is mainly driven by the need for the country to be seen as a ‘smart nation’.

Although Singapore’s electricity network is in good health and has an exceptionally low transmission and distribution loss rate, Chakerian says increased digitalisation through smart metering would go a long way to further improving the energy segment.

He explains increasing the pace of the smart meter rollout means more consumers would have access to smart grid services that in turn would enable them to optimise their energy efficiency. And for utilities, smart meter data would help further reduce both technical and non-technical energy losses and provide a springboard for digital initiatives.

Increasing penetration

At a time when calls for climate action have never been louder, increasing its smart meter rollout would also help Singapore wean itself off fossil fuels. According to a new study called Powering the World released by Utility Bidder, Singapore relies on fossil fuels more than any other country in the world.

The study states that 98% of Singapore’s total energy supply comes from traditional fuel sources including coal. More smart meters in more homes would mean Singapore’s utilities would have the data to optimise both consumer and grid energy management and be able to forecast and match energy generation with demand.

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Smart meter-enabled services such as demand response and time of use would in turn enable consumers to shift heavy energy use during peak periods to off-peak, which would help utilities to use renewables for baseload power.

With funds to install advanced meters mainly sourced from electricity rates charged to households, there is a need for Singapore to explore other funding avenues, including green loans and bonds. Stricter smart meter installation deadlines would also encourage rollout at a much faster pace.

Today, deployment is only based on factors such as the age of cumulative meters, development plans in the area and meter deployment efficiency. Utility-wide scale deployment can also be a better option to replace the current model since it will encourage individual retailers to rally towards reaping the benefits of a smart grid.

In addition, an increased presence of multiple vendors and smart metering technology players from other ‘mature’ markets including Europe and North America would encourage innovation, knowledge transfer to Singapore and help increase the current local appetite for smart meters.

The AMI infrastructure in Singapore today is a result of a partnership between utility SP Group and local companies: Singtel, a telco; and EDMI, a smart meter manufacturer.

Smart metering market drivers

However, despite the slow growth of the Singaporean market, recent developments within the country’s energy markets are expected to drive an increase in the pace of rollout. The opening of Singapore’s electricity retail market to competition in 2018 has the potential to accelerate the rollout, according to Chakerian.

He says deregulation will encourage those consumers who do have a smart meter to switch retailers. This is expected to help improve consumer appetite for smart meters and encourage utilities’ focus on smart metering through efforts to expand their consumer base and increase revenue streams.

The Energy Market Authority, water agency the Public Utilities Board and SP Group have embarked on an initiative aimed at accelerating smart meter rollout across the electricity, gas and water networks.

In April, they announced a project to deploy 300,000 smart water meters in seven locations, starting in early 2022.
Despite the slow pace of smart meter rollout in Singapore, the recent announcements are expected to have a significant impact in helping water, gas and electric utilities to identify the beneficial AMI use cases.