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The Middle East's smart metering boom has begun

Now smart metering needs better regulation, says Diehl's Jairo Rojas

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Better use of collected data will help create full smart metering solutions.
Better use of collected data will help create full smart metering solutions.

Why smart metering needs better regulation, and how the data could be used far more effectively:

If there’s one thing frustrating the manufacturers of smart meters in this region, it’s that their products are being used for a fraction of their potential. Huge growth in the uptake of smart metering in the Middle East has seen a few boom years for manufacturers, but there’s more that can be done.

“Between 2009 and 2010, we saw a 30 per cent growth in sales,” says Jairo Rojas, Operations Director at Diehl Middle East.

“The projection for 2012 is another 50 per cent growth, and we will triple our business in the next eight years; this is primarily driven by local authorities, such as DEWA and ADWEA. The Saudi Arabian business is growing very fast, as is the market in Qatar – the former due to population increase, and the fact that they are quite behind in technology, and the latter because of the 2022 expansion.”

Rojas also voices hopes that Bahrain will regain its expansion, and says that in the UAE huge growth in the smart meter industry has been driven by poor decision making on technology five years ago. “The types of meter they are using are not adequate, so they are changing, mainly from traditional mechanical meters to electronic smart meters.”

So investment from local authorities is driving a boom in the smart metering business, but are they being used to the extent of their capabilities?

“The first step is to have an accurate meter,” says Rojas, “but what’s the point in having a very accurate meter if when you take the information from it you have a significant amount of errors, or you can’t read all the meters, or you have problems obtaining the data? People are realising that they need to start moving more into automatic meter reading solutions – AMR.”

The AMR solutions include walk or drive-by radio solutions, or even fixed networks.
“In Dammam, Saudi Arabia, we are in the final stages of implementing a project which uses almost 30,000 meters read through a fixed network using radio, so there’s no manual intervention.

“It’s not that complicated as a technical solution – the technology has been around for the last 20 years, it’s just bringing it all together and implementing it properly.”
For the local authorities though, there are issues.

“Each manufacturer uses multiple standards of communication,” explains Rojas, “though there are independent international standards of communication, not all suppliers are using them.

So you have a combination of companies using their own communication and not using international open standards; the challenge for local authorities is to enforce the standards, or to look at suppliers offering standard protocols, giving them the flexibility of being able to change suppliers.”

Rojas is keen to point out though, that AMR systems by themselves do not constitute smart metering.

“The question is, how do you move from AMR to smart metering? A lot of people stop their definition of smart metering at AMR, but for me smart metering is when you take an accurate meter, which you can read accurately and quickly, and use that information for a purpose.”

“In the case of electricity, that’s when you start thinking about smart grids, when you’re using metering data that you can obtain every 16 seconds, that you can use to control your network to reduce losses, reduce overgeneration, identify problems and generally manage it proactively and more efficiently.”

It’s the same with the water industry too – using data from smart meters to manage the network can allow a utility to identify leaks and consumption patterns, and to generally manage pumping stations in a more efficient way.

“In the case of the UAE, there’s a huge opportunity for efficiency,” Rojas says. “The UAE has reported the highest per-capita usage of water in the world, but nobody really knows how those numbers have been calculated, and how accurate they are. The reality is, in the discussions I’ve had in the past, I don’t believe that number is
calculated properly, and that it’s overstated.”

A large part of the smart meter revolution also needs to be education, Roja says, if systems are to be of real benefit to local authorities and, ultimately, consumers.
“There are few people that have the knowledge and the understanding today; I believe this is growing, but there is still a lot of education to be done,” he says.

“Also, on the negative side, there are a lot of people in the market – consultants and suppliers – who are trying to sell technology to the local authorities, but are not trying to sell solutions.

So they find they don’t know how to use it, or that the technology is not fit for purpose, and this has happened in a lot of places in the GCC – they’ve spent a lot of money in implementing technology, but they don’t get results.

“There are opportunities in smart metering for water too, but they are at an early stage. The first step that the local authorities need to resolve is about having the right technology, the right approach to obtaining the data, and having the right resources to manage that data and make use of it to deliver efficiencies.”

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