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IEKView:Smart Meters Create Significant Business Opportunities for Micro-Controllers and Transmission Components
 

1.Micro-Controllers and Communication Transmission Solutions as Key ICT Technologies for Smart Meters
To speed up the deployment of smart meters and facilitate the application of smart energies, major economies such as the U.S., the EU and China have been extending policy support to encourage the utilities to replace old electricity meters with smart meters and related infrastructure. This presents opportunities for the introduction of ICT technologies.

Among the key components of the smart meter (Figure 1), the MCU (micro-controller unit) is like the heart of the smart meter. It controls all the meter functions, including the control over Analog Front-End components that measure currents and calculate energy consumption. It also shows all the information on the display.

The telecommunication technologies relevant to smart meters are FAN/NAN and HAN. FAN/NAN (Field Area Network/Neighborhood Area Network) is the transmission technology that delivers data between meters and concentrators. HAN (Home Area Network) is the technology that transmits energy information (consumption and costs) from smart meters to monitor the smart thermostats and smart home appliances at home.

In the context of ICT technologies, FAN/NAN covers wired and wireless standards such as BPL (Broadband Power Line), Narrow band PLC, Wi-Fi and RF Mesh. HAN encompasses wired and wireless solutions such as PLC (e.g. Homeplug), Zigbee, Z-wave and HomeGrid.

Figure 1 Smart meters are composed of three core components for sensing, transmission and control
2.Selection of Smart Meter Communication Standards Should Be Region Specific
The U.S., the EU and Japan chose different standards for meter reading for their smart meter infrastructures: RF Mesh for the U.S., PLC for Europe and Wi-Fi for Japan.

In the U.S, the residential areas are relatively spacious. Therefore, the use of Wi-Fi signals to transmit electricity data can achieve a high success rate.

In Europe, it is difficult for wireless signals to penetrate wooden structures that are close to each other. Therefore, PLC is the ideal wireless platform. Meanwhile, a transformer in North America can support at most 100 users. In Europe, a transformer can accommodate 1,000~3,000 users on its grids. Data collectors are placed next to a transformer to access user data over the existing power lines. This is one of the benefits of PLC wireless solutions.

Also, the differences in user profiles in different regions also lead to the offering of modularized products by communication providers so as to cater to various technical requirements of different meter-reading technologies.

3.Key ICT Components for Smart Meters are Still Controlled by Multinationals
A mapping of the abovementioned smart meter component technologies from control and transmission components to the existing off-the-shelf products and solutions will find multinationals to be the key players. This is because the technical functionality and reliablity requirements for smart meters are higher than those for consumer electronics. Multinationls are proactive in driving industry standardizations by leveraging their market shares, hoping to establish entry barriers to SME entrants.

4.Conclusion
In general, multinationals remain the dominant players in the key components and technologies for smart meters. Taiwanese players have, by and large, accumulated certain knowhow in the technologies for control, measurement and transmission, although such knowhow tends to centre on consumer electronics. It is still possible for Taiwanese manufacturers to catch up. In terms of market entry strategies, they are advised to address Tier 2 clients in emerging markets by introducing MCU peripherals (display driver IC, power management/current conversion chips) and communication modules. This will allow Taiwanese companies to build up design and deployment experience, as well as track records. In the process of establishing their experience and competence in solution integration, they should also enhance the functionality and reliability of components and modularized products before approaching Tier 1 clients for electricity meters. It is also suggested that Taiwanese firms should seek to launch integrated solutions for smart thermostats, smart home appliances and displays for home power consumption. The vision is to accumulate expertise in integrated solutions targeting at the vertical applications associated with smart grids. This will allow transformation and upgrade of the Taiwanese industry, in preparation for capturing the new market of smart energies.

Author:Hsieh Meng-Hsuan

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