Around the world, the electricity supply industry is turning to ‘smart’ meters to lower costs, reduce emissions and improve the management of customer supplies. Smart meters collect detailed consumption information and using this feedback consumers can better understand their energy usage which in turn enables them to modify their consumption to save money and help to cut carbon emissions. A smart meter can be defined in many ways, but generally includes an element of two-way communication between the household meter and the utility provider to efficiently collect detailed energy usage data. Some implementations include consumer feedback beyond the energy bill to include online web data, SMS text messages or an information display in consumers’ premises. Providing a cost-effective, reliable communications mechanism is one of the most challenging aspects of a smart meter implementation. In New Zealand, the utilities have embraced smart metering and designed cost effective ways for it to be implemented. The New Zealand government has encouraged such a move to smart metering by ensuring the energy legislation is consistent with the delivery of benefits to the consumer while allowing innovation in this area. On the ground, AMS is a leader in the deployment of smart metering and associated services. Several of New Zealand’s energy retailers were looking for smart metering services for their residential and small business customers which will eventually account for over 500,000 meters when the multi-year national deployment program is concluded. To respond to these requirements, AMS needed to put together a solution that included data communications between each meter and the central data collection point and the solution proposed by Vodafone satisfied that requirement.
Vector in partnership with Advanced Metering Services (AMS) are providers of smart metering solutions in New Zealand. AMS chose Vodafone to provide a reliable, cost-effective mobile communications network to transmit the metering data. Vodafone worked closely with AMS to provide a bespoke technical solution and to develop new price plans that ensured the smart metering solution met the requirements of New Zealand’s energy retailers, consumers and distribution companies.
AMS decided to use a communication solution based around Vodafone’s existing GPRS mobile network having considered the use of power line communications, WiMAX mobile broadband or a purpose-built RF mesh network. “There were two principal reasons why the GPRS network from Vodafone stood out for us,” said Atkins. “The infrastructure was already in place with ubiquitous coverage and a high reliability, the limitations of the other options would not have enabled us to roll out Nationwide”. Past experience of working together was also a factor, as Atkins explained: “We had used Vodafone’s GSM network technology for several years without any problems, and Vodafone had always been open to making changes we needed.” In the AMS solution, a SIM card supplied by Vodafone is installed into the modem part of the smart meter. Regular readings are taken by the meter, and sent back automatically to AMS data management system over the Vodafone GPRS network.