By Marc Pégulu, Vice President IoT Strategy and Products, Semtech
Smart metering adoption is increasing in the U.S. According to the Edison Electrical Institute, nearly 70 percent of U.S. customers are expected to have Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) by the end of 2021. Despite anticipated overall growth, adoption is at a slower rate due to a variety of challenges from high costs to energy-intensive data storage.
Cooperative and public-owned utilities provide services for thousands of communities, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the total U.S. market. Unlike investor-owned utilities, these groups are less likely to have access to advanced metering technologies and are left with legacy systems that are not only outdated, but difficult and more costly to read. This is a concern for cooperatives and public utilities whom hundreds of thousands of individuals rely on daily to power water and gas utilities.
Across the nation, global suppliers of global metering companies are introducing low cost solutions for public wireless systems to enable a truly future-proof advanced metering structure (AMI) system designed to address current and future needs of customers.
Vision Metering (Vision), originally a broker of surplus equipment within the utility market, rebranded in 2011 as a developer of a fast-growing and highly reputable line of meters and metering accessories. Vision’s goal is to provide products that are constantly evolving to meet the needs of customers while maintaining an affordable and fair cost. In today’s current landscape, an affordable, interoperable system is a necessity. Enter Semtech, whose low power, long range technology helped to turn Vision’s goal into a reality.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Vision started collaborating with Semtech in 2017 and launched Vision’s first system in early 2018. Compared to its seasoned competitors, Vision could be considered late to the game. Since Vision joined the market, the company has experienced immense success in gas and water utilities with customers from municipalities, electric co-ops, and investor-owned utilities. And all in a short amount of time. In partnership with Semtech, Vision achieved an impressive 80% of the capability of its competitors in only four years and is expected to meet full competitive capacity by spring of 2022.
Connectivity is a top challenge for smart metering. While several options – like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 5G – exist, these solutions cannot penetrate dense buildings and have issues providing seamless service across urban environments or underground. Many of Vision’s competitors use outdated mesh systems and rely on other devices to make the system work. Semtech’s LoRa® devices and LoRaWAN® standard enable long range connectivity and low power consumption to enhance the performance of Vison’s AMIs to capture data in real time.
Able to make use of data in real time, this connectivity option helps companies predict usage patterns, allowing cooperative and public-owned facilities to better manage supply and demand. Newer, low power options are also easier to deploy and more cost-effective, by utilizing batteries with a life span of up to 10 – 20 years.
Before Semtech, Vision adopted technology from a competing low power network operator. Shortly after, Vision realized that the 8-channel gateway provided by the operator did not provide enough power for Vision to achieve what they wanted to do. LoRa on the other hand is scalable and an operator can choose from 8 to 64 channel gateways, allowing 1,500,000 up to 12,000,000 messages per day from a single gateway. Using this data, utility companies can make data actionable, turning meters on or off depending on what they want to achieve. Simplifying monitoring even further, utility companies can also design their systems to facilitate communication from water, gas and electricity on the same network.
Taking Care of Business
When first deploying its technology, Vision encountered challenges getting its gateways on towers more than 100 feet tall. The company chose to use a gateway operating with LoRaWAN that incorporates power over Ethernet (POE) instead of directly powering the gateways, seeing as the latter option provides no economical way to power battery backup. Newer, low power offerings from Semtech enable Vision to power gateways from the Ethernet cable, giving them the capability to build a POE that has a 24-hour battery backup and power supply in the POE itself.
“In some instances where we’ve reached higher than 100 feet, customers reported that they are able to communicate up to 40 miles,” said Randy Austin, President at Vision Metering. “With two or three gateways using LoRaWAN, we can light up an entire system in a municipality.”
In May 2020, Vision announced the completion of a metering project leveraging LoRa in Mountain View, Missouri. The city installed gateways using LoRaWAN and retrofitted all electric meters, allowing the city to receive energy use data from each meter every 15 minutes. As a result, the project allowed the city to continue saving money due to reduced waste and ensures more accurate and efficient monitoring.
Vision quickly overcame a handful of initial setbacks, allowing the company to get to where they are today and fulfill its mission of transforming utilities through the introduction of smart technology.
The Future of AMI Starts and Ends with Long Range, Low Power Technology
Vision’s customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive over the past four years. “We can install infrastructure for 10% of what our competitors can. That’s a big deal because when you talk about deploying a lot of gateways to handle a mesh system, you’re spending a lot of money,” said Randy.
The truly open nature of the LoRaWAN standard means that Vision and other utility operators can leverage equipment from a multitude of vendors, giving users an added level of comfort because they know the system is not going to go away anytime soon.
In the ever-expanding Internet of Things environment, long range, low power connectivity options are the future of utilities as they extend an affordable, reliable and long-term option to global suppliers of gas, water and electric utilities.
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