19. April 2021 | Author: Oscar Rechou Iglesias | Images: iStock, Sunrise

Swiss energy providers are called upon to replace their conventional electricity meters with smart meters. These are an integral component of intelligent distribution networks and open up countless new and data-driven business models. This not only creates opportunities for traditional energy providers, but also for new players. Those companies that wish to secure their market standing in the long term need to invest at an early stage.

As part of the Energy Strategy 2050, the Swiss Federal Government obligated Swiss energy utilities to replace 80 percent of their conventional electricity meters with smart meters by 2027. This strategy has one clear objective: sustainable energy efficiency and securing the supply.

Smart meters are intelligent meters that can store, send and receive data through the mobile network and Internet of Things (IoT). The data are generally collected in 15-minute cycles, to then be transmitted to the data concentrators (DCs) in the transformer stations in an encrypted form, after which they are forwarded directly to the energy utilities. This is how smart meters contribute decisively to greater transparency on actual power consumption. This holds several benefits for all stakeholders in the electricity market.

Little helpers transmit digital gold for greater (energy) efficiency

Machine readouts of actual energy consumption spares tenants and property owners the effort of future payments to their account and automates billing. This makes the billing process less error prone and reduces the administrative effort on the part of the utilities. Utilities that manage to gain a better understanding of the energy consumption of their customers with intelligent meters and comprehensive monitoring can use these insights to sustainably lower costs and boost customer loyalty with attractive services. By managing grid fluctuations through targeted recommended action and digital energy services, companies can save significantly on network expansions.

Digital service models are up next

Besides the traditional players in the energy market, the possibilities opened up by smart metering can also be leveraged by new competitors with data-driven business models. Competition is getting fiercer. Swisseldex, for example, developed a central data exchange platform that simplifies meter change processes and provides associated services. Swiss telecommunications providers Sunrise and UPC are currently working on an energy solution that will open up new business models for all market participants. Investing in data visualization and IoT-based services at an early stage pays off, as does the decision to enter digital ecosystems.

The liberalized electricity market drives autarkic energy supply

Besides the applications previously mentioned, smart meters have another crucial function: Being connected with both intelligent control modules (gateways) and a digital transformer station, they lay the foundation for an intelligent distribution network – the smart grid. In digital transformer stations, the current can flow in both directions. Energy providers can not only supply end consumers with their electricity, but also collect the solar power generated on roofs of private household.

This solves one of the current challenges facing sustainable energy: a large number of building owners are generating power for private use, but are confronted with inefficient private storage solutions, with limited options for distributing their electricity to other consumers. If the surplus electricity runs through the digital transformer stations, it can be collected in large joint storage systems, to also supply other consumers with electricity whenever necessary. All this stimulates the approach of autarkic energy supply, which will grow significantly more important with the upcoming liberalization of the electricity market.

IoT connectivity is required

As data sources for new electricity applications or integral components of smart grids – smart meters hold great potential for the energy industry. However, to be able to benefit from digital meters in the first place, they must communicate with both the data concentrators as well as utilities. Smart meters therefore depend on reliable communication networks and the Internet of Things.

Mobile communication standards such as 5G have one clear advantage: they do not require investments in network expansion. However, building insulation can be an obstacle to these mobile communications technologies. Smart meters are often installed in basements, which is why Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) or Cat-M1 are suitable alternatives. These wireless standards can also penetrate thick walls. These are so-called low-power wide-area technologies with excellent energy efficiency.

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