Communication Mediums of Smart Energy Meters

Communication Mediums of Smart Energy Meters

Smart Energy Meters are the “Smart Meters” due to the only reason of some Communication medium present between the utility company and Energy Meter. Here I am not going to discuss the technical differences of the Communication Mediums of Smart Energy Meters instead the practical differences of the medium will be discussed here. So, it will be easy for a non-technical person to go through the differences of different communication mediums as well.

Communication Mediums

Communication mediums are responsible to send measured data to the main server, so, that utility company can access that data without any hurdle or difficult task of going into the field just for reading. The medium can provide one way as well as two way communication between consumer and utility company. Two communication means utility companies can connect/disconnect load of the consumer as well.

Followings are the different communication mediums that can be adopted in Automatic Metering Infrastructure:

  • Bluetooth
  • ZigBee
  • Wi-Fi
  • RF (Radio Frequency)
  • PLCC (Power line Carrier Communication)
  • GSM/ GPRS/ 3G/ 4G (Mobile communication)

Why careful choice of Communication Medium is important?

Communication mediums play a vital role in Advanced Metering Infrastructure which is emerging concept in Energy Metering world. Study about advanced metering infrastructure here:

Advanced metering Infrastructure

Choice of Communication Medium directly affect the cost and technology of the smart energy meters directly. For example, if you choose Power line communication then you have to consider the initial cost of the medium. The complex structure of this method requires a lot of money and very sensitive design of modems as well.

To clear the concept, we will discuss each communication mediums separately and discuss the advantages and disadvantage of the medium.

Comparison of different communication mediums

First, let’s have a quick comparison table on different communication mediums:

Comparison of Different communication mediums
Figure 1: Comparison of Different Communication Mediums

Bluetooth and RF (Radio Frequency) Communication Mediums

Both these technologies are low range mediums but a major difference of both these technologies have a speed. Bluetooth have comparatively high speed than RF medium.

Bluetooth or RF technologies are obsolete idea with respect to the Smart Metering due to their really small range.

For example, if you are adopting any of this technology then you have to go in the range of 10 meter to connect with the meter and after that you will able to download the data from the meter. Obviously, it looks really absurd to use this method.

Another disadvantage of these technologies is there connectivity issue. You cannot connect your device with more than one Energy Meter at a time. Only one to one connection will be allowed which will be time consuming and hectic job for the Meter reader.

The cost of these modules is little bit less than their alternatives like Wi-Fi or ZigBee but for the little bit less cost, this small range is not a good option to adopt.

ZigBee

ZigBee wireless communication network is used for communication network for smart meter system. According to researches, ZigBee communication network have advantages of low cost and low power consumption.

ZigBee is best to use where low power consumption have a need with not a large range. For example, a use may be within an office building or in some mine etc.

To use ZigBee as a communication medium a whole structure of ZigBee must be established working node to nodes.

Another way of using this medium is to combine it with GSM/GPRS medium. For example, ZigBee will collect individual data from the consumers and then send it to the main hub present with the common distribution Transformer. That hub should be connected to the GSM/GPRS module which then sends that data to the main server.

Working technique of ZigBee based Smart Meters

The smart meter with ZigBee based consists of two parts; the ZigBee based power meter and the end processing system. At the power meter, Voltage and Current waveform have sampled by a data acquisition module and then convert to digital signal via ADC module. The voltage and current measured is calculated by micro-controller to obtain power consumption data and be sent to end processing system via ZigBee device.

The end processing system contains ZigBee coordinator and software that designed to establish a power consumption and outage event database as well as to offer the inquiries of power consumption data. Each ZigBee power based system is acts as a node that need to communicate with the ZigBee coordinator of end processing system.

The connected power meter to ZigBee coordinator will allow the end system to send command to receive power consumption data from each power meter. The ZigBee wireless communication networks have limited to small area network for a few kilometers square.

Wi-Fi

Using Wi-Fi as a communication medium has advantages and disadvantages nearly same as ZigBee. But it has one major advantage which makes it much more recommended to use as a communication medium. That advantages are if you need to establish smart metering infrastructure where internet connection is available then this is the best option to choose. Use of Wi-Fi will not require much effort. A Wi-Fi modem will be required to attach with the Smart meters so that they can send data to the server.  This is another advantage of Wi-Fi modem that it will send data directly to the server without any additional effort.

Study complete article on how to use Wi-Fi technology here.

But if internet connection facility is not available then Zig-bee is much better option due to low cost and low power consumption.

PLCC (Power Line Carrier Communication)

PLCC communication method is really a different method than others because it is wired communication method. But the interesting thing is you don’t have to tie additional wires to use this method. This method uses existing live wires that carry the electricity.

Isn’t it interesting? It looks cheap as you don’t have to establish new structure to carry the medium. The carrier of the medium is the live electrical wires itself.

But in real, the problem is communication through live wires is challenging task. As there are lot of noises and distractions which make it difficult to transfer data. For modulation and demodulation the data through electric wires needs a very sensitive modem.

Another issue in this method is the range through the wire is 10 to 100 meters only depends on the quality of the PLCC modem. After some intervals boosters

However, Power line carrier communication medium just required initial cost. But once established will give long term results.

GSM /GPRS /3G /4G

This is the best option available among all other communication mediums. The major difference of this method is that it does not care about the range. This method uses mobile network and with a safe guess 95% has already covered with the network.

So, just design a Smart Meter, interface GSM/GPRS module and connect it with the load of any consumer. You don’t have to worry about to establish additional structure to run this system.

Study a complete article on how to design a Smart Energy Meter.

Of course, a Web Server will require where these GSM/GPRS meters will send the data. 3G/4G networks are also good options which will enhance the speed of the communication.

The only disadvantage of this system is the running cost of the system. To use the mobile networks, network providers will charge the cost. This cost will not require for the first time but whenever any GSM/GPRS Enabled meters to use the mobile network then network provider company will charge according to the usage.

Study complete on the Basics of GSM

I think this is enough discussion about the communication mediums of Smart Energy Meters. If you want to add something in the discussion then comment below. Also don’t forget to like our facebook page.

Ismail Sarwar

Electrical engineering is my profession, my hobby and my passion. I completed bachelors of electrical engineering in 2015. Currently I am working with an Electric Utility Company. Power Electronics, Embedded Systems and Energy Metering are my fields of specialization. In free time I listen music and watch movies.

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