Interview

IoT is an innovation booster for the energy industry

Swiss energy providers are facing the major task of replacing their analog meters. As an important component of smart grids, smart meters enable completely new business models - from which new players will also benefit. It is therefore worthwhile to invest now in IoT-based services.

Mr. Rechou, you are responsible for business development for smart energy topics at Sunrise UPC. What role will smart metering play in 2022?
With the current world and climate situation, sustainable energy efficiency and security of supply are more in demand than ever. As part of the Energy Strategy 2050, the government has committed to Swiss energy providers replacing 80 percent of their conventional electricity meters with smart meters - by 2027. That still sounds a long way off, but an early changeover is already worthwhile today and is easier to implement than many think.

Smart meters are intelligent meters that can store, send and receive data via mobile communications and the Internet of Things (IoT). Every 15 minutes, data is collected and transmitted in encrypted form to data concentrators (DCs) in substations and from there directly to electricity suppliers. Smart meters thus make an important contribution to transparency about actual electricity consumption. This brings a number of advantages for all participants in the Swiss electricity market.

What are the practical benefits of these little helpers?
The automatic reading of actual electricity consumption will save tenants and property owners additional payments in the future and automate billing. This reduces errors and the administrative workload for utilities. Utilities that better understand their customers' energy consumption through smart meters and comprehensive monitoring can permanently reduce costs and improve customer loyalty by offering additional services. Those who get grid fluctuations under control through targeted recommendations for action and digital energy services will even save considerable costs for grid expansion in the future.

Which digital service models are already on the rise?
In addition to the traditional players in the energy industry, the topic of smart metering is also bringing new players with data-driven business models onto the scene. Competitive pressure is increasing. Swisseldex, for example, has developed a central data exchange platform that simplifies switching processes and offers corresponding services. We at Sunrise UPC are working on an energy solution that should enable new business models for all market participants. So it pays to invest in IoT-based services and enter digital ecosystems at an early stage.

Does the liberalized electricity market strengthen self-sufficient energy supply?
In addition to the fields of application mentioned above, smart meters have an additional, important function: if they are connected to both intelligent control modules (gateways) and a digital transformer station, they create the basis for an intelligent distribution network, the smart grid. Digital transformer stations enable power to flow in both directions. This allows utilities not only to deliver their electricity to end users, but also to collect solar power from private rooftops or from battery storage units of unused electric vehicles.

This solves one of the big challenges around renewable energy: many building owners do generate electricity for their own use. However, private storage solutions are still too inefficient and offer only limited options for redistributing the electricity to other consumers. When surplus electricity flows through digital substations, it can be collected in large community storage facilities to supply other consumers as needed. This strengthens the self-sufficient energy supply approach, which will gain significant traction with the upcoming liberalization of the electricity market.

To what extent can IoT networking be match-decisive?
Whether as a data source for new energy industry applications or as an essential component of future smart grids, smart meters represent significant potential for the energy industry. However, in order to derive any benefit at all from digital electricity meters, they must be able to communicate with data concentrators and energy suppliers. Smart meters are therefore dependent on reliable communication networks and the Internet of Things.

Mobile communications standards such as 5G offer the advantage of not requiring large investments in network expansion. In certain cases, however, building insulation is an obstacle to this mobile communications standard. For smart meters, which are often installed in basements, the use of Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) or Cat-M1 therefore makes sense. These radio standards also penetrate thick walls. They are low-power wide area technologies that are particularly energy-efficient.

All technology standards are future-proof and Sunrise UPC is ideally positioned to handle full-service projects thanks to specialized energy management partners. With our 5G Joint Innovation Center in Opfikon, we even offer the opportunity to personally exchange ideas on various concepts and pilot new approaches.