International handbook on smart metering


Fabio Toledo,
Chief Technology
Officer, Light
By Jonathan Spencer Jones

While there have been a number of books appearing on smart grids, there have been surprisingly few on smart metering, despite its foundational role in the smart grid and the fact that it is bringing a sea change not only for the way consumers use energy, but also for the utilities that are deploying and operating them.

The “International handbook for smart metering” (or more correctly as it is published in French “Guide international du comptage intelligent”) by Fabio Toledo, now chief technology officer of the Brazilian utility Light, with responsibility for the company’s smart grid program, is intended to fill this gap – and it does this most admirably and readably.

The book had its genesis and was largely written when Fabio was seconded from Light (then part of the EDF Group), working first with EDF R&D in France on that country’s metering program before moving across the channel to take charge of EDF Energy’s smart meter program in the U.K. It forms part of the company’s research series of books.

The 270-page book is intended for a broad professional readership and in a conversation with Fabio, I found out more about the background to the book and asked him to give some insights, based on his wide global experience and knowledge of metering.

What stimulated you to write this book?

Smart metering platforms are no longer a trend, but a reality across the world. These technologies will, sooner or later, be massively deployed. It is just a question of time, as they offer many benefits to customers, energy utilities, environment, local authorities and other market players.

Smart metering projects require multi-disciplinary teams (marketing, regulation, metering, R&D, finance, etc.) that are well trained. As such they and other players in the energy market need reference material that covers various needs. As this is a recent and specific subject, as far as my knowledge is concerned, there are no books yet meeting the needs of these professionals and focusing specifically the theme of smart metering. This book aims to fill this gap in the global literature and to meet the high expectations people have for this subject.

What have you aimed to cover in the book?

The book is intended to enable the reader to understand the environment of smart metering platforms. To that end, an international perspective is presented, including management methods, opportunities, challenges, as well as the primary components, international developments, innovations, and trends of related systems over time.

Adopting a practical and synthetic approach, the book introduces the smart metering environment through five conceptual lines: A technical vision of metering technologies and concepts; technical architectures, systems and infrastructure for smart metering; innovative platforms, products and services as well as the drivers, opportunities and challenges associated with the deployment of smart meters; the mass rollout of technical and technological solutions as well as how to manage the associated risks; and finally the future trends for smart meters.

Is there a focus on any particular technologies?

No, the book offers an overview on the different technologies available, allowing the reader to analyze the pros and cons, and choose the one most suited to their reality. Personally, I do not believe there is a best technology but the most appropriate to a specific scenario. Ideally, a hybrid and interoperable solution is recommended because different environments exist even within a specific utility.

From your experiences what are the key lessons that should be considered in rolling out and operating a smart meter deployment?

First of all, utilities must clearly understand the needs of their different stakeholders, of whom the most important is the customer. Total customer and other stakeholder satisfaction should be the main objective. As such, the interface with the customers should be simple and meet their real needs to ensure their support for the project.

It is also necessary to “think outside the box”. For example, new functionalities and services will be made available to customers and other stakeholders during the various phases of the project. Innovation, benchmarking, synergies and a proper evaluation of strategy, requirements, technologies, technical architecture, risks and cost-benefit analyses are key for the success of smart metering implementations.

Defining a technical architecture is fundamental. Apart from the need to safely and securely specify hardware and software, a technical architecture is necessary to enable integration with other platforms and interoperability between the different devices within its scope.

It is also essential that a full program of research, development and testing is adopted.  Each customer offer should be part of a serious process of evaluation to assess the feasibility of a solution in relation to market requirements. Products should be laboratory tested and analyzed before being installed in the field. Tests such as safety, metrology and communication are paramount.

What is the status of smart metering technologies?

There are still some challenges and new methodologies ahead, but most have been overcome by energy companies. The motivations and profitability of smart metering systems vary from one market to another, but a global analysis suggests that they are already an international reality.

Energy suppliers and utilities have an even stronger perception of their metering systems as necessary and strategic. In competitive markets, opportunities with these systems to retain existing customers and gain new ones are increasingly evident.

For utilities that have deployed smart metering, what should they be focusing on next?

Smart metering teams should closely watch market trends. At least, integration with other platforms will amplify the range of benefits to be achieved. A global view is necessary to facilitate all the benefits and opportunities for the different market players. There are even some projects that, due to the market, environment and other aspects, could only be justified if implemented in association with smart metering systems.

A smart metering system should be seen as the entry door for smart grid projects. It offers the opportunity to share infrastructure and reduce the cost of these projects. For example, electricity meters may act as sensors on the grid due to their capability for advanced quality measurements and on-line feedback.

Another clear trend is the integration of smart metering systems with other smart systems, such as smart homes and smart cities. Smart metering systems would produce even more benefits if integrated with, for example street light platforms, multi-utility systems, plug-in vehicle infrastructure, smart appliances, etc.

Ultimately, though, the answer to this question depends on the individuals and other parties directly or indirectly involved in projects. The evaluation should be continuous as trends evolve.

“Guide international du comptage intelligent” by Fabio Toledo, published by Lavoisier, 2012 (ISBN 978-2-7430-1427-8).  An English version of the book is in preparation.