Have you ever thought about how much it costs you to do a load of laundry? For the most part, people cannot give a good answer to this question. If we ask these same people the question of how much it costs to talk to their friend on their mobile phone for 10 minutes, they will give a precise answer. The purpose of smart metering is none other than to teach people the notion that energy is a finite ‘commodity’, and they ought to be economical with its use.

The smart metering ‘fever’ has not skirted Hungary either. It is the topic of numerous international conferences, with Hungarian experts joining highly regarded conferences abroad in ever greater numbers. As a member state of the European Union, Hungary carries out the 2006/32/EC directive, governing the attachment of individual metering and/or the energy consumption of the consumer, in a transparent manner.

Nevertheless, we must potentially view the central European block as a region possessing a similar technological history across the board, in a different light from the Pan-European countries.

With the turn of the millennium, due to the reduction of invoicing and measurement losses, large-scale metering site reconstructions have begun, from individual households all the way to the largest industrial consumers.

Due to the strong economic incentive effect, consumers using above 3x50A have been equipped with an industrial meter. The meters remote-sense and report via Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) systems on GSM and PSTN telecommunications lines. Today each and every energy service provider has a metering centre and the number of monitored meters is in the tens of thousands.

In the case of household consumers, the service providers have equipped the vast majority with mechanical meters, with readings performed on an annual basis. The planned life cycle of the equipped meters, presently a few years old, is at least 15 years, but with re-certification it may be as long as 25 years. Their premature replacement constitutes a serious financial burden to the distribution companies, or a significant additional expense to the consumers. Already we are facing a contradiction: the directive governs the development of transparent metering in such a manner that it has to be cost-effective.

Naturally there is a great deal of political pressure. Hungary cannot lag behind the other member states, and so the Hungarian Energy Office will issue a tender for consultation services, the objective of which will be to explore the possibilities for the development of smart metering in Hungary: the development of a concept, as well as methods of introduction and regulation thereof. It is too early to talk about this effort yet, but judging by other European examples, it will take a minimum of 2.5 to 3 years between the development of the concept and the initial launch.

COMPONENTS OF DOMESTIC ENERGY CONSUMPTION

In connection with smart metering in Hungary, it is important to see that the climate of the Carpathian basin is one of extremes. During the summer it is not rare to experience heat of 38OC, while during the winter temperatures as low as -25OC may occur. In the winter the foundation of domestic heating is natural gas, which gained sudden prominence in the 1980s. Today the natural gas network has coverage of about 90%.

During summer households are using air-conditioning systems in ever greater numbers, contributing to the continuous growth in electric power demand.

The annual energy allocation of an average Hungarian household consists of the following: In a single family house zone electric power represents 40% and gas energy 60% of expenses; in large block apartment buildings this ratio changes to 30% electric and 70% heat energy (natural gas is below one percent, for the most part invoiced as a lump sum fee, used for cooking). Therefore when we are discussing energy in the Central- Eastern European block, we must think about electric power and natural gas, as well as heat energy, at the same time. This is also true for smart metering, where as a matter of necessity a multi-utility solution must be developed.

A serious braking effect on the spread of the smart metering multi-utility is that a different ownership controls the metering connection point of the same property for natural gas and for electric power. Confounding this problem is the professional argument that the liberalisation of the metering point produces a weaker technological service and requires a higher level of organisational ability than what is necessarily present.

CONCEPTS

The other result of metering modernisation is that a large portion of the metering location has been relocated outside the residential property, thereby reducing the number of instances where the readers are motivated to report inaccurate data.

We consider it important to note that it is not possible to implement smart metering with a replacement of electronic meters using mass communications, as one of the fundamental foundation concepts of smart metering is service provided with conscious consumer information. A large proportion of consumers are not even aware of, or for years have not looked at, their electricity or natural gas meters. After the annual metering, a corrective invoice is delivered, which can be many times the usual monthly invoice. At this time the consumer, not understanding the high invoice, often complains about a ‘malfunction’ of the meter. For a few months after the corrective invoice is issued, this ‘shocking’ feedback causes a little more conservation in energy usage, but this gradually fades.

In other areas, however, people’s thirst for information continues to grow. We use our electronic tools with ever greater frequency to acquire information through mobile telephones, text messages, the Internet, email, etc. These are media that provide an opportunity to reach vast numbers of people directly with data.