Ok, So What’s a Smart Meter? Whatever You Want It To Be!


For an industry that isn’t too quick at adapting to new ideas or new technologies, we are pretty good at adopting new buzzwords! And why not? By hanging new terminology on old concepts it’s like giving them a fresh coat of paint and passing them off as new. We can all act in-the-know by tossing around fuzzy topical phrases like “smart metering”, something like the supplier who likes to say, “We’re gaining traction in the utility space,” or the utility person who starts sentences with “At the end of the day…”

Since there is no universally accepted definition for smart metering, you can make up your own! You can be the expert. You can preach at length about the innovative applications enabled by your definition of smart metering. If you are a utility you can launch a study or a pilot programme to evaluate smart metering without really having to commit yourself. If you are a meter or AMR/AMI vendor you can show how and why your product is a VERY Smart Meter, perhaps the Smartest Meter of them all. If you are a regulator in the US or Canada you can wax poetic on the importance of “Smart Metering.” Make it up. It can be whatever you want it to be. Wonderful! This is all nonsense, of course. In the first place, define “smart.” Does “smart” mean that a meter has powers of reason? Is it able to make rational inferences from incomplete data; is it a heuristic powerhouse that can learn and automatically adapt to its dynamic environment? Or does “smart” simply mean that the meter can do a calculation? Or that the meter is electronic, with no moving parts?

Or that the meter has a microprocessor? Or does “smart” mean that the meter can communicate? You get the idea.But it gets worse. Some of the most successful AMR/AMI systems have been thoughtfully designed to keep the actual meter as simple and low cost as possible, and to concentrate the complexity and cost at higher levels of the system. In other words, certain computing, storage and time-tagging functions are done once in a data concentrator rather than replicated in each meter. Thus exists the popular and costeffective “dumb meter/smart network”. Smart meter? No. Smart network? Yes. Yes, a dumb meter helps us do smart metering! Talk about semantic juggling! What the industry seems to be describing, at its inarticulate best, is not a “smart” meter at all. Rather, what the industry really wants is a metering capability or system that is multi-functional and flexible. It must be adaptable, and it must do precisely what it is told.

Smart? What does that mean? And who cares? Just for the fun of it, consider the incredibly smart meter that decides, on its own, to go on strike. Perhaps it decides what meter data you really should have or even what data you deserve to get – in spite of what you told it! Or perhapsthe cerebral meter decides that data collection is  too mundane to bother with on pretty days. Or the meter with the high IQ that gets headaches and quits when pressed too hard. Perish the thought! Unfortunately, the term has stuck. We must live with it. But when you are dealing with the uninitiated, do them a big favour. Explain that you don’t really mean “smart.”