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How Do Smart Meters Communicate?

Smart meters are a significant part of the future of energy. They provide real time data on usage to both utilities and end users, helping people monitor energy usage, helping water utilities detect leaks, and eliminating meter reading visits.

So, how do smart meters communicate with the internet? How does this all work?

How Do Smart Meters Connect to the Network?

The majority of smart meters connect wirelessly. Although wired communications are entirely possible, they are not always feasible due to the environment, the distance, or the cost of wiring. Wireless communication allows meters to be placed where they are needed without any additional disruption to a customer’s home.

In-home smart meters do not use your personal Wi-Fi network. Not everyone has a Wi-Fi network, so it would be counterproductive to require this. Additionally, there are potential security risks in both directions. Instead, they typically connect to a Home Area Network (HAN) via a low speed wireless protocol, such as Wireless M-Bus or ZigBee, or they connect to the cellular phone network. The amount of bandwidth needed by each individual meter is low. They then connect to a WAN network, although this often also uses the cellular network because it is already in place.

Some smart meters use a RF transmitter to connect. The meters connect to something called a data concentrator, which pulls together the data from several smart meters and sends it to the central grid. This is typically mounted on a utility pole.

Smart meters do not connect directly to the internet. Customers get the data from the central location or from a display in their home. Smart appliances may also talk to the smart meter, which allows customers to track electricity use by appliance. As smart appliances become more common, the HAN will gain more nodes, supporting this and giving an even better idea of consumption. This will help consumers make smart choices to reduce their energy consumption and better time peak consumption.

How Does the Network Itself Work?

As already mentioned, the smart meters send their data to a data concentrator. This allows many streams of data to go down one pipe, as it were. This is then sent to a relay and eventually to the utility company’s servers where the data for each customer is stored for billing and the aggregate data can be analyzed.

Do Smart Meters Send Data Constantly?

Smart meters transmit data in short bursts, not constantly. The exact frequency varies, but is typically every fifteen or every thirty minutes. This gives close to real time readings without constant RF transmission.

So, while the data is real time, this does not mean that your smart meter is sending out all the time.

What Information Does the Smart Meter Send?

Only electricity usage information is sent out by the smart meter. The smart meter does not know or have access to any personal information, including other information held by smart appliances. For example, a smart fridge will not send details of a customer’s shopping list and habits over the HAN. The data is personally identifiable for billing purposes, but may also be used in aggregate by utility companies to, for example, estimate future peak demand and assess the best time to do maintenance on power plants.

Some people do have real concerns about privacy with smart meters and may ask to opt out of real time monitoring. In this case, the meter can still be read without a reader needing to enter the home, using a device which pings the meter for their usage.

To find out more about how smart meters communicate and how useful they are, and to talk to us about installing smart meters in your area, contact Envocore today.

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