Five years ago, people were starting to hear about the electronic electricity meter, or eMeter. Why are people interested in an eMeter? An eMeter can report electricity usage faster, cheaper, and more reliably than the traditional mechanical counterparts that have been utilized in the past. The long term cost savings for utility companies using an eMeter balances out the high cost of a system wide infrastructure upgrade. Throw in some government assistance and incentives and it is a “no brainer.”
The first eMeters were based on 8- or 16-bit microcontrollers (MCUs), such as the Texas Instruments (TI) ultra-low-power MSP430 MCU, with either embedded or discrete analog for electricity usage measurement (metrology) or for varied types of communication depending on geography, utility requirements, and overall goals.
Figure 1: TI offerings for optimized smart grid solutions.
The eMeter started the revolution by simply tracking usage and reporting data back to the utility company. Today, it makes sense to combine the original electronic communication infrastructure with a smart home network to connect a variety of electronic household products offering both safety and convenience features. With energy costs as a top concern and the proliferation of connected electronic products, the need for a connected smart home and smart meter is more real than ever. In short, the smart grid and the smart home network need to evolve to the next level to meet user demands.
The list of possible connected parts of a smart home network is rapidly growing. In a quick search of the Internet, a customer can find electric, water, and gas meters all offering smart connectivity. But now, commercial and consumer level products are taking advantage in spaces that include heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC), lighting control, security, smoke alarm detection, electric vehicle chargers, and a host of smart appliances (for example, refrigerators offering touch screens for users to monitor home energy use, surf the Internet for a recipe, or watch television in real time). These new smart connected devices are joining the network of a smart home to provide the possibility of a futuristic George Jetson-like home. Okay, maybe without Rosie the Robot (not yet, anyway).
What is the potential of a truly connected smart home? A large part of that depends on the home owner, but today there is development moving towards a highly connected, user-friendly home. In areas or times when the electricity grid is strained, the utility, with permission, can reach out to homes or businesses to adjust items such as appliance usage, HVAC settings, and other activities to keep from rolling brown outs or charging peak rates. Other activities falling into the category of conveniences include using your smart phone or work computer to adjusting your thermostat when you’re not at home, sending an alert to you if a window is left opened and/or unlocked, or monitoring the movement of a grandparent. The possibilities with a connected smart home are endless.
Figure 2: Examples of a smart home complete with smart appliances and in home displays.