The concept of a smart home is becoming more of a reality as the number of connected consumer products with a more accessible price tag grows. Examples of smart home technology includes smart speakers, light bulbs and security equipment. A major technology that has joined this plethora of smart devices is Smart Meters, which allows users to track energy usage in near real time by monitoring their energy consumption to calculate the amount of power used in 30-minute increments. This information is sent to an in-home display screen (IHD) as well as the energy supplier. This allows both, users and utility companies, to track usage and cost closely. Seeing the usage converted into pounds in near real time enables users to manage their energy more carefully by understanding what devices are driving up the cost and potentially acting on those high-energy consumption items in their home. Smart meters also spell the end to estimated bills so users will only pay for what they have used.
The deployment of smart meters is on the Government agenda as part of a key programme to help the UK reduce carbon emissions by 2020. In fact, the Government has pledged that everyone will have a smart meter fitted by 2020. The latest data available on the Government website shows that 8.25 million smart meters were installed by the end of Q3/2017, with the total number of installations steadily increasing each quarter.
The technology for smart meters was designed to cover the majority of single dwelling units in the UK in a first instance; and this roll-out is well underway as shown by the above figures. There is however a large gap lurking on the horizon – the complex buildings such as high rises and old concrete blocks. For such buildings, electric meters might be located in the basements or other rooms that are quite remote from the flats they are serving and may need to travel through multiple floors, walls or long distances. As a result, the current “single dwelling” solution will struggle to establish a viable radio link between the meter and the householder’s IHD. Smart meters are made up of two types of radios: a Wide Area Network (WAN) and a Home Area Network (HAN).
Figure 1: Smart Meter Architecture
Most of the links in the architecture are wireless, with the exception of the electric meter to the Communications Hub which is commonly wired. The WAN serves to communicate key parameters back to the energy provider as well as the Data Communications Company (DCC), an organisation set up by the Government to manage the data generated and collected. The design of the WAN for high rises and old concrete blocks will be key to ensuring the right dimensioning of the network and minimising interference. The same is true for the HAN which is the communication link between the energy meters and the IHD (via a co-located Communications Hub). In this case, the Smart Metering Programme has set up the Alternative HAN (AltHAN) project to look at enhanced solutions and services to be able to serve these more challenging buildings. The AltHAN technologies are still under development and could include a mix of wired, wireless and mesh solutions.
The solution for the more complex buildings shows strong similarities with how in-building Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) are designed: in both situations, there is a remote source that needs to pass and retrieve information to and from peripheral devices/antennas. Both require careful design and planning to minimise disruptions and to optimise the chances that the deployment will deliver the quality of service required. iWireless Solutions has vast experience in the design and deployment of DAS systems. Our core expertise is about designing wireless solutions in locations generally requiring high capacity multi-operator service, e.g. sports and entertainment venues, rail stations, airports and large shopping centres. Our skills include consultancy, design services and build services; all of which are relevant when deciding what optimum AltHAN solution to select for a particular building. We design our solution regardless of whether the building is still a concept with the architects and developers, a listed building that is being refurbished or an existing building with occupants: in all cases we have learned to work with the constraints and find ways to comply with restrictions by finding suitable routes for cables or locations for equipment and antennas. In our experience, technology is rarely the limiting factor, and it is working with the available environment, and space and tight timescales that is generally the challenge.
Whilst we wait to find out more about the developments of AltHAN, follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter to be kept up to date on this. There are other ways in which iWireless Solutions can help with smart metering; from working with the Government to help achieve the 2020 deadline to helping manufacturers test and further develop their communications hub, iWireless Solutions can assist you with our experience and expertise in the industry. Find out more by speaking to one of our technical specialists by contacting us via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone us on 01342 305038.