Smart Meters in Pakistan: A Technological Perspective

Digitalization, as many say, is the need of the hour for Pakistan, mainly because the country has always struggled to keep up with the global technological trends. Our loyalty to traditionalism as a nation has hampered our growth in the world of digital transformation.

One recent example of the same is the matter of the deployment of smart meters in Karachi. The issue is comical – for the debate on whether they should be used or not hinges on one’s understanding of what these meters are and how they are used.

It’s high time we bust myths about smart meters and understand the efficiency of the technology used in them.

These meters are used around the world and have been there in the market for more than 10 years. The technology, one can’t say, has been perfected in the last decade but has undoubtedly improved tremendously. Smart meters can upgrade the way energy is used in the world and can help us tackle climate change, so much so that Britain aims to deploy these meters in every home by 2020. These are more than 26 million homes for the energy suppliers to cater to. Can this technology be used in Pakistan? To conclude, it is crucial that we understand what these meters are.

What are smart meters?

Smart meters for electricity/gas usage can transmit meter readings digitally to your power/gas supplier to get more accurate bills. These are deployed at customers’ premises and are a replacement for standard analog meters. Smart meters can transmit energy consumption information back to the utility on a much more frequent schedule than analog meters which require a meter reader to transmit information.

This means the bills will be more accurate than ever and the consumers will not be able to temper with the units used. This smart grid technology has been embraced around the world and many countries are already using these meters to ensure an efficient power supply and billing system.

The United States, Canada, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, East Asia, and the Netherlands are among the countries already benefiting from smart meters and most other EU countries are currently rolling them out.

How does smart meter operate?

Smart meters use a secure communication network to automatically and wirelessly send your actual energy usage to your supplier. These meters use central systems. The central systems are designed to read these meters remotely and get the consumption and electricity quality data. The central system could be used for disconnection and reconnection of meters.

There is no central system designed to change the monthly reading remotely or give any control of changing the data on the meter. This means households will no longer rely on estimated energy bills or have to provide their own regular readings.

Internationally, smart meters come with a home display that gives the household a real-time information bar indicating the current usage – kW used and the cost. They also show you what hours or days you use more energy, helping you identify ways to be more energy efficient.

Although, Pakistan in its initial stages is most likely to use ‘interval’ meters, which operate digitally and record electricity consumption in 30-minute intervals, the technology upgrade is much needed for the country and is a step in the right direction.

What are the benefits of having smart meters?

Smart meters bring an end to estimated bills: the customers will not have to provide a reading or have a stranger come to their houses every month to read the meter. In case smart meter displays are provided, customers can see the direct impact of their everyday habits and lifestyle on their energy usage. This will help the customer make better and more accurate decisions to reduce their use of electricity to attain cost affectivity.

Smart meters can detect outage very quickly and can send a message to the supplier. This way, if your power is out, the problem can be located faster, and repair crews can be put to work sooner.

Moreover, because you’ll be able to keep a track of your usage since your last bill, there should be no unexpected costs. Advanced versions of smart meters help you make informed usage a day to day practice. At a glance, the consumer will be able to see how much energy he uses when he turns the washing machine on or irons his clothes.

This level of accurate knowledge on both ends: the consumer and the supplier, will help generate smarter plans for the usage of power. Demand-side management programs, such as households consenting to the network turning off their air-conditioners for 10 minutes an hour on peak days in exchange for a reduced electricity bill, demonstrates a win-win example for all parties.

In a country like Pakistan where load shedding is still a grave issue and illegal power connections are very common, smart meter technology can be a blessing. With demand-supply management, energy conservation plans can be made so that more homes are energized, and load shedding is reduced.

If these meters are installed in Pakistan, they will help get improved monitoring of the overall electrical network which will reduce energy losses further, manage recoveries, proactively address network performance issues, enhance distribution planning capability and improve outage management.