The market for smart utility meters is growing at a rapid pace. A recent report by ABI Research predicts there will be an installed base of 1.34 billion meters by 2023*. IHS Markit forecasts almost 50 million smart water meters will ship globally in 2023, a number which is roughly four times its size in 2017. Year over year, the number of new meter shipments for water, gas, heat and electricity is increasing at a rate of four to five percent according to IHS. Globally, the proportion of smart meters will soon exceed half of all meters shipped annually. The largest utility adopters of Internet of Things (IoT) technology for smart metering devices are electricity (64 percent), followed by gas (38 percent) and then water (26 percent). Behind these strong growth numbers, the adoption of smarter technologies for metering is predicted to continue for the foreseeable future.
Advantages Driving Worldwide Adoption
Factors driving the adoption of smart metering include better billing with the automated collection of meter data, cost savings through the reduction of leaks and improved efficiency in utility networks. In last decade, a number of utilities have adopted the walk by/drive by data collection method to profit from the short-range data transferring capabilities of connected meters. Today, market demand for increased efficiency is pushing data collection past the walk by/drive by system to fixed network connectivity via IoT-enabled smart meters for long-range data transfer to the utility providers themselves – no manual reading necessary.
The new criteria for the selection of connectivity is its capacity to ensure bidirectional communication, and maintain latency to manage alarms and actuators. Examples of these managed devices include pressure sensors, leak detectors and operate actuators, like a typical shut-off valve. Semtech’s LoRa® devices and the LoRaWAN® protocol are increasingly being recognized as the de facto choice for IoT applications, including smart metering applications for utilities.
A great illustration of LoRaWAN’s capacity for utilities is its use case for gas. In recent years, many LoRa-enabled gas metering deployments in China have grown to millions of units. Several vendors are exporting these successful products overseas, including Goldcard, Suntront and HWM. New players including SmartMetersQ and Cavagna are also proposing leading gas solutions. For gas, one crucial aspect beyond the collection of meter data is the monitoring of daily indoor temperature and gas use. This allows the automated adjustments to simplify billing and manage interactions with alarms and actuators, like shut-off valves.
The need for interaction translates to the need for two-way communication with network latency. Typical water meters communicate asynchronously using LoRaWAN Class A communication. This allows meters to transfer data a few times daily and collect downlinks while spending the majority of time in sleep mode to prolong battery life. For smart gas solutions, LoRaWAN also supports Class B communication, which offers a beaconing service for synchronization and enhanced network latency. NTT West used this Class B mode in a recent deployment for Osaka Gas in Japan. With LoRaWAN, gas utilities profit from proven connectivity that supports meter data collection and improves overall efficiency.
Another factor sustaining the demand for connectivity is the need for safety. Gas pipeline pressure and faulty sensor operation have been identified as two major causes of gas-related accidents. A combination of smart metering technology with sensors for smart valves, gas pressure and gas leak detectors on the same network, represent a concrete response for gas utilities to enhance safety and improve overall efficiency.
The Growing Worldwide Gas Market
According to IHS Markit and other analysts, there will be around 20 million new smart gas meters installed in 2019, and 24 million reading modules for gas meters. An amazing display of market growth, IHS’s indicated numbers are nearly twice as large as their initial estimates. With LoRaWAN, manufacturers are able to tap into this new trend, and help utilities connect their existing gas meters quickly and easily.
In current deployments, several key market areas in India, Europe and North America are increasing their demand for LoRa-based gas modules. While there are existing use cases such as OrionM2M’s recent deployment in Kazakhstan, or Tata’s recent deployment in India, the U.S. market is one of the most demanding with more than 7 million new units added per year. We will explore the U.S.’s unique market demand more below.
Gas Metering: Differences in Global Markets
In a gas utility application, meters must function for long periods of time and transmit data regularly. However, device calibration and how often the device must be replaced are two requirements that vary depending on country regulations. A typical calibration operation takes place every four to five years in Europe, while the period of replacement is 15 years or more. In a European deployment, a gas meter will only have three calibration operations over its lifetime. Due to these factors, demand for gas modules is therefore quite low.
In China, the replacement period for a gas meter is every five years on average, creating high turnover and a large demand for new meters. As a consequence, demand for new modules is lower than other markets. Today, most of China’s smart meter demand is based on LoRa-based applications, overtaking both NB-IoT and Cellular-based applications.
In the U.S. market, the period of replacement is an astounding 40 years on average. Given this extended device lifespan, the preference is to use a module to connect installed gas meters. The resulting U.S. market demand for gas modules is much greater than new meters (one new smart gas meter installed for every eight new modules). These market numbers are huge when compared with others.
This is blog two in a three-part series on LoRa-based applications for smart utilities by Rémi Demerlé leading up to Semtech’s participation in the European Utility Week conference in Paris this November. Read part one here for a look at how LoRa devices and the LoRaWAN protocol enable leading use cases for more efficient water networks.
Find more information on LoRa-based applications in smart utility metering on the smart utilities application page, and download the smart utilities white paper from the LoRa Alliance® and ABI Research:
*ABI Whitepaper Nov. 2018
Semtech, the Semtech logo, LoRa, and LoRaWAN are registered trademarks or service marks of Semtech Corporation or its affiliates.