Can Smart Meters be “Smarter”?

Adoption of Smart Meters in ASEAN 

47% of the 650 million ASEAN’s population now live in cities, and by 2030, it is expected that another 90 million people will migrate to these major cities. ASEAN’s rapid urbanisation leads to energy-intensive lifestyles, and this rising appetite has increased the need for efficient energy and transparent energy consumption monitoring. 

Smart meters and grid modernisation have become the top priority in many countries in ASEAN. Shirley Lee Mei Hwei, the Head of Deployment Management for Tenaga Nasional Berhad, Peninsular Malaysia’s only utility, noted, “The AMI market is expected to double in the next five years as utilities across the globe shift towards adopting smart meters. Organizations are realizing the increased efficiency and accuracy of utility management.” 

Current smart meter and connected grid projects enable utilities to provide consumers with insightful data regarding their consumption patterns. The data collected could also be aggregated and allows utilities to create a strategic network of energy demand on a national level. Information is exchanged in real-time and enables two-way communication for decision-makers to analyse data simultaneously. As such, utility companies can monitor and detect any abnormalities instantly to make quick and accurate decisions.

Smart technology serves as a foundation to further deploy renewable energy sources, enhance billing accuracy, increase monitoring efficiency, and reduce costs. Following the Thailand 4.0 initiative, the country has shifted its focus towards smart cities and energy transformation. The Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA) of Thailand has developed the Smart Grid system to balance the system for all sectors. Both energy consumers and producers will have their own management and information linked systems to provide precise power control and electricity management. With this, customers will be able to manage their electricity usage to suit their lifestyles and usage habits.

Meralco was one of the earlier adopters of smart meters, rolling out their smart meter program in 2015. With 102,000 smart meters deployed in the first half of 2021, more customers can monitor their daily energy consumption and cautiously manage their electricity spending. Furthermore, the system allows for remote monitoring of outages, service connections, power quality and demand in real-time. The Philippines have prioritised investments in technology to digitally enhance utility operations by planning to deploy 3.3 million smart meters by 2024 and a smart grid roadmap by 2027.

Vietnam is another prominent adopter of smart meters in ASEAN. Its implementation of the Meter Data Management System (MDMS) serves as a central database to store meter data, allowing quick collection and analysis of data to bill and manage power outages efficiently. 

As for Singapore, approximately 290,000 smart meters have been installed in households in 2019. The outstanding 1.1 million households are expected to have them installed by 2024. These smart meters allow consumers to access their half-hourly electricity usage through the Singapore Power (SP) utility mobile application, cultivating cost-conscious consumers and more energy-efficient consumption patterns.

Preventing Downtime and Minimizing Revenue Loss

Managing electricity outages is crucial as it can inadvertently affect economic activities and cause inconvenience to companies and households alike. Nevertheless, these breakdowns are inevitable, and often, there is a lag between problem detection, cause identification and repairment. To alleviate this issue, Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) carried out a condition-based inspection and maintenance to identify faults in the lines prior to failure using a corona discharge camera coupled with a computerised maintenance system. The CoroCAM-integrated diagnostic system uses real-time data collection to enhance its decision-making capabilities, allowing for the early detection of defects. As a result, SEB is able to reduce its maintenance costs at the Tanjung Kidurong power plant. Additionally, the maintenance system also helped increase the safety, reliability and efficiency of the utility plant.

Similarly, managing utility meter lifespan is equally essential. Meter performance deteriorates over time which results in meter measurement errors and inaccurate meter readings. Besides electricity theft (link), utility companies also incur losses from electricity meter measurement errors due to deterioration of meter performance. In most countries, meters are replaced on periodic intervals of 5 to 10 years to provide more accurate readings and ensure that utility distributors operate efficiently and customers are not overcharged.

Nevertheless, determining replacement intervals can be challenging, resulting in premature replacements of meters operating within tolerance limits. As such, utilities may spend more than required to replace working meters unnecessarily, reducing their cost-effectiveness to ensure power measurement accuracy. Besides being a costly process, periodic inspection of installed meters is also intrusive to customers as it requires on-site visitation and power shut down.

Lastly, varying conditions over time, such as extreme weather, unpredictable loading, and lightning strikes, etc., reduces the measurement accuracy of meters deployed in industrial and residential areas. Often, instead of early detection of such issues and taking preventive measures, companies have to bear the costs of repairing meters. Perhaps, SEB’s predictive maintenance on electricity cables could be applied to extending Smart Meters lifespan to increase the cost-effectiveness and sustainability of AMIs.

Can Smart Meters be “Smarter”?

Despite the accurate billing and monitoring performance and centralised data management, the deployment of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) requires companies to employ extra workforce to maintain, repair and replace smart meters. This is the common challenge for adopters of Smart Meters to ensure a smooth operation and experience for their customers.

The recent development of a new generation of Smart Meters allows utility companies to monitor the accuracy of each meter remotely. These newly-upgraded Smart Meters adopt a cloud-based analytics service that can be integrated into every new meter in the field to monitor and report its measurement accuracy regularly. The analytics service offers enhanced reliability and visibility of meter performance, allowing for quick detection of errors, repairing, or replacing meters. The new Smart Meters render such field-based sample testing redundant and, therefore, increase cost-savings to utility companies.

Furthermore, with the new technology, utility companies can accurately monitor the health of their Smart Meters deployed in different areas and only replace meters that are nearing or exceeding their tolerance limits. Companies can defer future capital expenses by extending the lifespan of their Smart Meters usability and replacing those required. In addition, they are reducing waste by preventing premature replacement of meters and allowing funds and resources to be channelled into other higher priority tasks.

We look forward to exploring this with regional utility leaders from ASEAN on 13 July 2021, 1600 – 1730 (GMT +8). Register here to join us in a closed-door private focus discussion.

AIBP

6 July 2021

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