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.
My nephew installed such an eMeter in his house after he saw an ad at the TV about it, he was very interested to create an user-friendly home and this was the best option besides installing drains from DesignerDrains.com. He bought electric, water, and gas meters that offered smart connectivity and he is very pleased by his idea to install them, the other day he made a surprise for his wife and adjusted the thermostat when he was at work.
@Robotics Developer: kudos! Thanks for injecting a lot of commonsense! Much of the smart grid industries would do well if they stay OUT of consumer's homes. I have rigorously argued in conferences (like ConnWeek) that utilities do NOT need visibility inside the house as to how the consumer is using/saving energy. They should just stick to transmission & distribution. The only smartness needed here is the capability to meter and monitor consumer-generated power (like solar roofs) and this can be done at the meter, smart or otherwise!
You are right, this sounds too much Orwellian.
Well we have recently had smart electricity meter installed. Communication is via secured wireless to the utility company, so no access to the data directly from the meter. The utility says that maybe in a year or two they will allow access to the data, but would be updated about once an hour or so.
Thus no real-time data that would help with conserving energy.
Robotics Developer makes many good points.
For me, having a "smart home" networked in such a way as having a third party have access to my homes "innards", let alone a degree of control, is definitely not my cup of tea.
If you ever worry about major infrastructure networks being hacked - which has happened more than once - then you have to worry about any home network with outside access being very vulnerable. Why invite that kind of invasion?
What happens in the US when one fails to pay the electricity bill? Does the electric company 'cut' the power line to your home? In Mexico, that's what happens. I suppose that using Smart eMeters will give the companies the power to cut the line remotely whenever we forget to pay the bill. This would become a money saving opportunity for the electric companies. I think all this about Smart grid is really beneficial to the companies, the vendors, not that much for us consumers. Anyway, seems to be the right thing to do.
I could not help feeling this was a marketing blitz type of article for the smart grid / connected home industries. While having the ability to adjust and control your own home's heat/lights/oven etc remotely is a nice thing, it is not really needed! Just having some smarts (programmable thermostats) would allow for all these things to be programed in advance. The whole smart grid is both very invasive and too Orwellian for my taste. As it is, energy efficient refrigerator/freezers save a lot of energy but at a cost of very limited cooling. Maybe our house use is different than others but we shop once a week, bring the food home (already starting to warm up from the drive home)and put it into the frig/freezer. It takes forever to cool down that much thermal mass as a direct result of the reduction in cooling capacity dictated by the energy efficient design. What would be more helpful would be a variable cooling capacity unit that uses only as much energy as needed to get the temps down where they should be. I do have to laugh at the concept of the fully connected power grid. Right now here in New England when we lose power the power company does not even know it. The power company does not have the ability to detect and localize power outages remotely and must send crews out to inspect the lines! How can we (not that I would want it) expect to have our homes monitored by the power company if they don't even have in place now the infrastructure needed to diagnose basic transformer issues and downed power lines? Not to mention that I don't need the government telling me (or my AC/furnace) that I can't cool/heat my home the way I want to. And don't get me going on Global Warming!
"A solution to resolve the security issue would be to move the smart grid to a cloud." To my knowledge, smart grid is serving electricity and the cloud is the Internet. Therefore, either smart grid is already in the cloud or is going to merge with the cloud. Merging smart grid with the cloud will increase flexibility of administration and management. Yet, imo, it will impose more security challenges since it will naturally become target of hackers.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.