The manufacture and distribution of energy is evolving, just like all the other sectors that adopt Industry 4.0 production methodologies. Across the globe more utility companies are seeking ways to reduce cost and increase efficiency in their infrastructure operations. The most progressive have applied smart technologies.
In its latest study on smart metering, ABI Research estimates that smart meter deployments -- led by energy and water utilities -- will result in a global installed base of more than 1.1 billion smart meters within the next five years.
Smart electricity meters will constitute the largest share, occupying more than 72 percent of the overall installed base of smart meters, but research suggests water meters are on track to witness the most overall growth.
"The global smart meter market for electricity and gas is reaching a degree of maturity, as utilities in most regions are either in advanced stages of rollouts or have laid out plans for phased deployment," said Adarsh Krishnan, senior analyst at ABI Research.
ABI believes that the focus is starting to shift toward modernizing the aging water distribution network, offering substantial market opportunity for OEMs, utilities and also end-users.
Data findings suggest, however, that there is growing concern among water utilities -- especially those in cities -- as they attempt to efficiently manage limited fresh water resources while keeping up with the increasing demand due to rapid urbanization.
"Smart water meters and data analytics are more critical components for water utilities," continues Krishnan. "They can help improve distribution efficiency by reducing leakages and also serve to implement and monitor the effectiveness of water conservation programs. The lack of regulatory framework or a government mandate in the water sector has resulted in a lack of shared vision to modernize the water network."
As smart water meters are battery powered devices, choosing the right connectivity solution poses another unique challenge. Long battery life of more than 10 years and signal propagation to reach meters that are often underground are critical to connect meters.
The ABI study discovered that wireless mesh networking and Low Power-WAN (LPWAN) technologies are popular connectivity technology choices for smart water meters, with the latter gaining momentum.
Cellular and non-cellular LPWAN technologies that operate in either the licensed or un-licensed portions of the spectrum band -- such as LTE-M, NB-LTE, Sigfox, LoRa, Ingenu and FlexNet -- are strong contenders to meet the connectivity requirements for smart water meters.
According to the ABI Research assessment, the number of wireless WAN connections will surpass wireless mesh connections in smart meters by 2021 by as much as 5 percent.