The Smart Grid doesn’t work - without energy measurement

It’s a well-known axiom that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. This applies equally to the smart grid, and in this context the point of measurement is electricity consumption. After all, what is the ultimate goal of a smart grid, if not to save energy?


It’s a well-known axiom that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. This applies equally to the smart grid, and in this context the point of measurement is electricity consumption. After all, what is the ultimate goal of a smart grid, if not to save energy?

IMS Research defines the smart grid as “a utility supply infrastructure with the inherent ability to match and manage generation and consumption efficiently, while obtaining maximum benefits from the available resources.” So the first stop along the way to “match and manage generation and consumption efficiently” is to measure the demand. To what extent is this happening today and how is that changing?

Energy measurement today is primarily taking place between the distribution and consumption portions of the grid in the form of a utility meter. We estimate that 95% of equipment integrating electronic measurement functionality was accounted for by solid state electricity meters in 2010. Beyond this, power quality and submeters are the second largest market for energy measurement devices, followed by the emerging residential panel meter and residential plug meter markets. It is to be expected that utility metering is a sizeable market; after all utilities are motivated to install energy measurement devices as that’s how they get paid. But given the push we’ve seen towards a smarter grid, I’d be surprised if you weren’t surprised at just how few devices are actually measuring consumption. Our estimate for 2010 excluding utility meters: less than 5 million from a target market containing over 500 million units of devices in the industrial, commercial and residential markets that are critical electricity transfer points or high profile electricity consumption equipment.

Changes are afoot. Utilities are leveraging the smart grid to motivate consumers to share in the responsibility of managing electric power consumption. Companies and consumers are realizing that to identify problem areas of energy consumption within factories and homes they need many interconnected devices that perform this function. We’re early into a two-step process that we are predicting will ultimately see energy measurement functionality being integrated into a wide variety and large volume of devices. The first step involves placing dedicated communicating measurement devices such as power meters, submeters, residential panel meters and residential plug meters, alongside targeted equipment. Once this starts happening to a greater extent, and benefits are observed through centralized analysis of the data obtained, demand will be created for equipment with integrated power measurement. 

Currently, the progress being made towards integration of metering type functionality within actual devices is mostly limited to industrial/commercial type applications.

Within grid infrastructure we’re seeing solid state protection and control IEDs containing this functionality replacing traditional electromechanical equivalents; similarly in datacenter applications “dumb” rack-level power distribution units are being replaced with intelligent ones capable of providing kWh analysis. Other areas show long-term promise: outdoor/street lighting is often tied directly to the grid without a meter and represents low hanging fruit. Similarly, motors consume more electricity than any other device in industry, and there exists the bizarre scenario that if you care about minimizing and measuring motor energy consumption today you need two devices (a motor drive and a power meter). By 2015, IMS Research predicts over 160 million devices will integrate electronic consumption measurement functionality.

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