By: Jean-Marc Darchy, Smart Energy Microcontroller Product Marketing, EMEA, Freescale Semiconductor

Smart meter deployments are steadily increasing in many parts of the world including Europe, Middle East and Africa. In 2014, Navigant Research forecast that worldwide shipments of smart meters are expected to peak at 116 million units annually in 2023.

The advent of smart meter technology was forecast many years ago. We briefly explore some of the underlying elements influencing the growth in the smart meter market.

Apart from legislative and political impetus and consumer demand for greater control of their energy use, there are several fundamental technology factors and market trends driving the industry forward.

These include:

• The microcontroller technology evolution
• The communication technology evolution
• The Internet of Things (IoT) era.

Shrinking microcontroller technology

These products used to be built with proprietary architectures and proprietary instruction sets which is no longer the case. Most successful microcontroller manufacturers and meter manufacturers have turned toward ARM® (more precisely Cortex® Mx) as their core processor, used for high-speed computing performance. This makes highly complex products easier to develop and migrate over time.

The technologies used to build microcontrollers have steadily decreased in size from 180 nanometers (nm) to 90nm and 65nm, with the trend moving toward 40nm. This has allowed a tremendous boost in performance with product running up to 200MHz — with this speed expected to double within the next two years. The fast pace of shrinking technologies has enabled much higher memory integration for both RAM and Flash. A few years ago microcontrollers could accommodate a few kilobits; today they are manufactured to house multi-megabytes on a chip.

The integration of additional and unique features allows smart meters to become more cost effective, safer and increasingly energy efficient. It is now common to…

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