Energy Australia to install Wi-Fi smart meters

SYDNEY – Energy Australia is betting a wireless smart metering system to be installed over the next two years will slash the utility’s maintenance costs and improve outage recovery times with the country’s first wireless smart metering system.

The system will transmit power usage and maintenance data from two million digital smart meters across the states of New South Wales and Queensland to a central database over a Wi-Fi and fiber-optic network.

Speaking at the recent 2008 Wireless World conference in Sydney, intelligent networks manager Adrian Clark said the system should be deployed across the country within two years.

“We will be able to extend wireless smart metering into the home and businesses in the future to monitor energy efficiency of separate appliances and devices,” Clark said.

“We went head-first into this which is something we don’t do. We’ve had to virtually become our own telco because our requirements are so different; we have millions of dispersed devices that need 100 per cent coverage. “Everything hinges on building a strong telecommunications capability which allows data to constantly flow.”

Data will be collected over the last-mile via Wi-Fi-enabled substations which will connect to new upstream and downstream smart metering devices installed in homes and businesses.

A new 1,000 km fibre backbone, built over the last three years, will carry the data from the substations to 250 sites across the two states. The fiber backbone replaced an aging copper network with upgradeable 1G bps Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS) and Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) layer 2 and 3.

The smart meters will be later upgraded with additional functionality via XML embedded in the devices. Clark said Energy Australia has no immediate plans to resell Internet services from its base stations, but won’t rule-out the prospect in the future.

Energy Australia is piloting the technology in its Homebush facility in Sydney, equipped with a functional base station, a variety of mock networks, and 7,000 smart meters.

Fixed wireless carrier Unwired has supplied networking facilities including the use of its licensed 2.3Ghz spectrum for the trial, while Alcatel and Intel have provided hardware for the network and the smart meters.

Clark said the system can run on different spectrums and network technologies, including broadband and narrowband over powerline, WiMAX, mesh radio, and High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) and GSM.

The utility is just the latest of a number around the world, including London Hydro in Ontario, using smart meters

The biggest project concerns are security, which will be laden with top-notch encryption and authentication, better efficiency and asset utilization.

Clark said the network will be built on open standards to avoid vendor lock-in and ensure sustainability over its minimum 15-year lifespan.

“The system will need to be in place for about 15 years because we need to guarantee customer service and avoid changing the billing systems for all of our customers,” he said.

The agency is putting in considerable effort to source the most durable system available, because unlike others in the telecommunications industry, a regular network rip and replace will disrupt the sustainability and uptime of the electricity distribution grid.