More EVs means more smart energy meters, systems

The Biden administration recently proposed an aggressive measure to cut greenhouse gas emissions, estimated to mean an increase in new electric vehicles sold in 2030 to 60%, up from 50% in 2030 announced two years ago.

While the pressure on automakers will surely increase, some companies are looking at the impact of EVs on the nation’s electric grid.

 More EVs means more charging stations in homes and office buildings and also at charging stops along roadways. 

“The EPA’s new mandates for EV sales will have an impact far beyond the automotive industry, as the real concern is what this will mean for the aging electric grid.  Utilities need to prepare now for this oncoming surge in demand,” said Don Reeves, senior vice president of outcomes at Itron, a company that makes smart networks, software, meters and sensors for electric, gas and water resources with $1.8 billion in 2022 revenue.

Some electric utilities believe electric generation is not as big of a concern in the US as the distribution of electricity, which is essentially a networking concern looking at where the demand is highest and which electric substations are nearby. With smart systems, including smart meters, electricity can be routed to locations where it is needed at high usage times.

“We expect there will be uneven distribution of where EV’s are deployed with significant impacts,” Reeves said in an interview with Fierce Electronics. “There may be a lot of raw generation, but can you get power to where you want it to go?”

Reeves said it appears unlikely utilities will broadly upgrade substations to handle new loads, which will be expensive, a cost ultimately borne by ratepayers.

Generally speaking, Itron’s role is to provide real-time visibility at the edge. “Our approach is to bring as much of compute down to the edge. We’re already shipping meters and have built a platform,” Reeves said. Every meter detects when a charge stops or starts and that information is aggregated in real time for a transformer view or an apartment building view and that information is shared to utility grid management. Then the grid takes action on those results. “It’s a scalable way to manage the grid,” Reeves added.

Tampa Electric is already an Itron customer, using multiple Itron apps to detect factors including the quality of the connection from the home to the transformer, the type of charger at the home and which types of meters are at what transformer at what phase of power. “We’ve also helped identify theft and other safety issues,” he said.

Most of Itron’s meters are wireless and some utilities are implementing powerline carrier communications to carry data.

The future for smart metering and systems will provide utilities and their customers insights on what it costs to charge a EV at home and can it be done at lower cost at a different period in the day.

Aetheros coming to the US

Another company focusing on increasing energy demand , Aetheros, recently announced it is bringing its IoT operating system and networking tech from Australia and New Zealand to power the second wave of smart meter deployments.

Part of what is driving Aetheros is that the first wave of 100 million smart meters installed 15 years ago are aging out.  

Aetheros claims it provides the only open and proven IoT service layer relying on the Aether Operating System to help utilities add distributed edge intelligence within their networks.

Ray Bell, founder of Aetheros and former CEO of Silver Spring Networks and CEO and founder of Grid Net, said the first deployments of smart meters in the US were about time of use billing and demand-response. “Today’s requirements are much more complex,” he said. “Utilities need to use distributed edge analytics and control to build a more efficient and diverse smart energy ecosystem.”

AOS has been proven  its work over 15 years in Australia and New Zealand and can provide an IoT Service Layer  at massive scale that does not lock in customers, the company claimed.

“The big picture is Moore’s Law at work,” Bell said in an interview with Fierce Electronics. “The cost of putting intelligence into things is reasonable and so now we’re building this machine network [as compared] to the mobile network for people with phones and tablets. The whole industry is doing it…Our belief is that in order to enable the next 15 years with electrification of vehicles, renewables and storage, you need a distributed OS. And it needs to be open and it can’t be a vendor walled garden…The play is to write the next wave of smart meters, with the lowest cost communications cards and putting in a distributed OS for apps…Let’s see if we can build out the next wave of smart meters and achieve what folks need to do. The electric gird can’t for now.”

Aetheros has about 50 developers working in Taiwan and the US, Bell said, but the company has already been handling more than 1 billion meter reads daily. Products are deployed in Mexico as well as Australia and New Zealand.

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