Smart electricity meters for the energy revolution

In the future, intelligent electricity meters (smart meters) will help to digitalize the energy revolution and enable consumers to save money. With special hardware, this could be possible much earlier on.

Renewable energy sources are the basis for achieving climate neutrality. However, the amount of electricity generated by wind and solar systems depends on the weather which can change at any time. Increasingly sustainable power generation thus responds less and less to demand; instead, demand must be geared to the supply of electricity available. This is possible for example with the incentives offered by variable or dynamic tariffs. Here, electricity is preferentially consumed when supply is high and demand, and therefore the price, is low. These models are particularly worthwhile for flexible large consumers such as e-vehicles and heat pumps.

Variable electricity tariffs require no fixed time plan. The price can increase or decrease within specific time windows and an average value is normally used for billing purposes. For these tariffs, simple, digital (according to BSI “modern metering devices”) or even analog electricity meters are sufficient.

Dynamic tariffs take into account the current price fluctuations on the electricity market. However, they require an intelligent measuring device (smart meter, iMsys) which permanently records consumption and transmits this information to the grid operator. The operator then calculates the actual costs based on the customer data in combination with the hourly market prices.

Unfortunately, these smart meters are far from being widespread. And the statutory obligation to install them does not affect households with an annual consumption of less than 6,000 kWh anyway. By 2032, households should at least receive the so-called “modern metering devices” without a gateway to the grid operator.

Intelligent electricity use without intelligent meters

These, however, are sufficient for the Norwegian green power supplier Tibber to allow its customers to participate in hourly variable electricity tariffs. A tracker reads the electricity consumption every ten seconds via the digital meter’s infrared interface. The data are transferred to the WLAN network via a wireless module and can thus be managed using a smartphone app. Via the Internet, Tibber has access to the consumption data in order to bill customers at the current market price.

The 10 x 10 cm socket developed by the Kiel University of Applied Sciences as part of the IntelliGrid project does not require a meter at all. It enables electricity generators and distributors to use the renewable energy available more efficiently. To do this, the operation of flexible loads such as washing machines, dryers or dishwashers is shifted to peak power generation periods to mitigate peak load periods.

The system is easy to operate. The IntelliGrid plug is used between the socket and the appliance. It then communicates with the IntelliGrid server via home WLAN. Users then determine when the washing machine for example should be finished via an app. On this basis, the IntelliGrid server chooses the optimum time to run the washing machine and thus make the best possible use of the electricity available.