Utility Meters Get Connected
STMicroelectronics' NFC RFID tags enable manufacturers and utilities to easily communicate with electric, gas and water meters.
Smart grid is more than a buzz term, as countries worldwide aim to update their energy delivery systems to improve efficiencies. Smart meters, which can gather usage data in real time and report back to the utility, are a fundamental building block for the development of a smart grid, says Gianmarco Ferrari, STMicroelectronics' nonvolatile memory and NFC marketing manager for the Americas. But smart meters must be customized for each utility in order to do their jobs.
The Dynamic Tags provide embedded electrically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM) ranging from 2 kilobits to 64 kilobits. That ensures meter manufacturers have plenty of storage for their authentication keys, provisioning parameters, geolocation-specific settings and customer tariff, display calibration and data-logging capabilities, Ferrari says.
"At the customer premises, utilities can use a smartphone to register the meter to the network with a simple tap, reducing time and cost for commissioning," Ferrari says. "In the past, that required a back-office operation between the installer and the utility company. The manual operation is costly and time-consuming and could also introduce errors." Utilities also can use a smartphone in the field to activate the meters and receive information from the meters for maintenance and other operations.
In other cases, Ferrari says, the NFC tags could speed the meter customization necessary to account for the state or country in which they will be used and the tariffs the utility would apply. "In still other cases," he adds, "the tags can be used as a low-power wireless link for meters that don't have a power connection." A field worker could read usage and billing data from a meter's tag memory when the power line is dropped.
"All of these use cases improve how these customers work," Ferrari says, "and have, alone or together, made our tags extremely attractive and cost-efficient."
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