With rapid technological advancements and an increasing focus on system efficiency, “smart” has become a buzzword in the power sector globally. Services across all segments are being digitised to bring in greater connectivity and enhance monitoring. For instance, the power distribution segment continues to battle challenges such as infrastructural inadequacy, a high level of losses and a fragmented customer network. In order to tackle these issues and enhance system efficiency, discoms in several countries have deployed advanced metering infrastructure, amongst other technologies. Sweden was one of the first European countries to embark on the path of nationwide deployment of smart meters. Implemented in 2003, as these systems are now completing their useful life, the distribution system operators (DSOs) in the country are preparing to replace them with second-generation smart meters.
Electricity landscape of Sweden
With around 10 million consumers, the country’s total energy consumption is almost 155 billion units (BUs). The bulk of electricity supply in Sweden is carbon free since it is sourced from either hydro or nuclear energy. However, there have been no new investments in these sources. Over the years, the country has diversified its energy portfolio by foraying into other clean energy segments such as biomass and wind. In fact, wind is rapidly gaining momentum and is expected to represent a significant share in the country’s future energy mix. Further, increasing wind production and the need to boost competition on the retail side have been some of the key drivers of smart grid development in the country. This has led to technological advancements in the entire system. One of the key technology measures has been the installation of smart meters.
Smart meter roll-out
The first wave of smart meter roll-out in Sweden began in 2003. While some of the large DSOs had already started installing smart meters, the large-scale deployment was mainly driven by Parliament’s decision in 2003 that mandated monthly billing for all consumers by 2009. Later, in 2006, a European Union directive specified that meters should reflect actual energy consumption and provide information on the actual time of use. The main objectives of the 2003 electricity meters reform were to simplify the supplier switching process and enhance consumer awareness through accurate electricity bills that would enable individuals to control their consumption. These first-generation smart meters use power line communication and enable customers to keep a track of their exact monthly electricity consumption. The consumption data is also made available online so that the customers can verify their billing details. For the DSOs, smart meters came as customer service tools and tamper alarms enabling them to effectively monitor the system, undertake remote readings of energy consumption and also track moving in and out of consumers between retailers.
However, studies indicate that these first-generation smart meters are nearing the completion of their life cycle and would need to be replaced by 2020. For this, a second phase of smart meter roll-out is currently being negotiated. A revised proposal for next-generation smart meters was presented in November 2017 and is being deliberated upon. Reportedly, approximately 5 million meters will be installed under the second phase of smart meter roll-out in the country by 2025. These next-generation meters would be equipped with added functionalities and remote control capabilities. The meters would have a smart phone interface and the capability to be integrated with home equipment. These meters would be utilised for load profiling on an hourly basis as well as for outage management. In addition, the meters are expected to enable advanced fraud detection, thereby minimising the losses for DSOs.
Challenges and the way forward
Sweden has taken pioneering initiatives in the smart metering space and has been constantly working on introducing advanced technologies to empower the metering ecosystem. As the country advances further to redefine smart metering, there are certain factors that need to be taken into consideration. To begin with, the country’s future electricity needs need to be incorporated into the current design in order to ensure system stability. For this, it would be important to make use of the current data and forecast the future energy demand. Moreover, with the increase in influx of renewable energy, the energy market is likely to become more interactive. In such a scenario, the meters would serve as a crucial link between consumers and the grid.
The electricity network is only expected to broaden over the years and thus the complexity of the system would have to be dealt with, through new innovations and improved system security. The only feasible solution would be to deploy flexible technology platforms that can effectively adapt to the changing energy dynamics across the globe.