Vector adds IoT to smart metering

Published on the 06/03/2020 | Written by Heather Wright

Vector smart meter

The emancipation of energy data…

Vector is eyeing up potential innovations, including the prospect of consumers being able to use more than one energy provider, on the back of a deal to connect the meters to Spark’s IoT network.

The Kiwi power and gas distribution company, which also provides smart metering in Australia, has signed a deal with telco Spark which will see a ‘significant’ number of its New Zealand advanced meters connecting to the telco’s 4G supported CAT M1 Internet of things network. The multi-year rollout includes the ability to shift to 5G connectivity as it becomes available.

Brenda Talacek, Vector chief operating officer metering and OnGas, says the move to an IoT platform, and the increased access to more real-time data capture, will be a key enabler in providing new offerings to market for both Vector and its retailer customers.

This technology is a building block and enabler to allow us to be more innovative in the way our market evolves.

The company provides advanced metering solutions to electricity retailers supplying around 1.5 million homes and businesses in New Zealand.

“It can’t be underestimated how this key building block is going to allow us to build products and innovations for customers that aren’t currently possible,” Talacek says.

Nikhil Ravishankar, Vector chief digital officer, says “From tech boffin standpoint, one of the reasons this is exciting is because for the first time you can have these types of use cases at a nationwide scale on protocols that are designed for machine to machine communication and that are essentially backwards compatible.

“That means 4G, 5G, 6G, which are predominantly marketing terms, almost become irrelevant for us, it’s more we have our CAT M1 network available where we can start to communicate with these devices for much longer than we historically could have.”

Vector previously predominantly used Vodafone’s 2G network, with large scale cellular commercial solutions more cost effective and efficient than radio mesh.

The company will continue to use Vodafone as part of its dual vendor strategy.

The company is already harnessing CAT M1 in Australia where it is ‘making its way down through a very long supply chain’, Mitch Webster, Vector group manager of sales and marketing, says.

“This technology is a building block and enabler to allow us to be more innovative in the way our market evolves,” Talacek says. “Things like third party access to metering data become possible: You could potentially have multiple traders at the same premise, something that is difficult to get to work cost effectively in the current environment.”

The prospect of having different energy providers at different times of the day is also an option, she notes, while customers will also receive more up-to-date, faster information on their usage.

Having access to the data on a more timely and regular basis also has potential for Vector and its workers, providing a cheap and effective identification of operation and quality issues on the networks and enhancing safety through detecting things such as voltage anomalies more quickly.

Webster says the deal will enable advanced gas metering – something he dubs as ‘a unique use case’, with the specific requirement for devices that are battery powered and with batteries able to last more than 10 years.

“That’s one of the very good benefits we get from CAT and IoT – we get very low power comms on a nationwide basis.”

As energy systems modernise and customers start to play a more active role in the energy value chain, access to data and understanding how energy is being consumed becomes vital and modernising how that information is transmitted back and forth is critical, Ravishankar adds.

“Moving to 4G, 5G technology means we are at the cutting edge of what communications technology is available to enable creation of an energy value chain where customers are truly at the centre and we are building a more customer centric energy system.”

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