Smart meters in Florida

Thanks to The Florida Channel, today I listened to a September 20 Florida Public Service Commission “smart meter workshop”.

The state’s power utilities presented their cases for deployment of smart meters. I was surprised to learn that all of the smart meter systems in Florida rely upon wireless communication. Florida Power & Light uses a 900 MHz mesh network: each meter transmits encrypted data only when polled; any meter may become a repeater within the network. The data exchanged with each meter are minimal and infrequent. Dynamic pricing data may be uploaded to each meter and load management is optionally available.

FPL's smart meter deployment schedule
FPL’s smart meter deployment schedule

FPL’s smart meter video:

I just wish that they had used their existing copper wires to carry signals, rather than wireless. Every meter is already connected by large gauge copper wire and transformers to its power utility. Why not use those power lines to communicate consumers’ metering data? That way, each utility need maintain only their wires, not wired plus wireless systems.

My first rule of electronic communication is, “Wireless should be your last choice, not your first choice.” Wireless communication uses precious RF spectrum, degrades reliability, and exposes content to theft.

Most utilities already use power line carrier (PLC) to provide internal protection, control, and metering (PCM) communication. PLC is a reliable medium. Yes, signal coupling capacitors must be installed across fuses and circuit breakers so that the RF carrier isn’t interrupted when the device opens during a fault event, and decoupling chokes (inductors) are needed to strip off the RF carrier occasionally. I’m surprised that the utilities wouldn’t wish to leverage this well-known communication technology and receive more return on installed outside plant.

They’ve chosen a 900 MHz wireless medium instead. Apparently the Florida PSC approved the wireless deployment.

The existing electric power distribution system is a noisy one for transport of data, I’m sure. Harmonics of 60 Hertz, switching transients, and uncontrolled line impedances must be overcome. I’m disappointed that neither system vendors nor utilities seem to have developed a viable wired solution. I’ll see if EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute, a consortium of power utilities) has researched this. I wish that the PSC had leaned on FPL a bit more to encourage use of PLC for smart meters.

FPL Residential smart meterI smugly thought, “This doesn’t concern me. I have an old analog meter.” Then I walked outside and just to be sure, peered at my FPL meter. It’s brand-new and wears an FCC ID tag, marking it as a smart meter. A wireless smart meter.

Excellent smart meter info: http://www.arrl.org/electric-utility-communications-applications-and-smart-grid-technologies

Questions about FPL’s smart meters: http://smartmetermatrix.org/


23 Dec 2012 Addendum: I’ve re-considered my stance. Relying upon the existing electric wires for communication is equivalent to in-band signalling; if an electric wire is cut, control and communication fails as well. I’m not enthused about using a wireless medium for control and communication, but I endorse the idea of using out-of-band signalling. Since no alternative out-of-band medium exists, wireless is our only choice.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695
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3 thoughts on “Smart meters in Florida”

  1. I don’t know a lot about this other than that Philly had halted its installation program due to some post-installation house fires. It will be using a new supplier going forward, although “Peco was careful not to blame the meters for the fires, but by ditching the Sensus devices, the implication is that it believes the firm’s devices are more susceptible to electrical overloads.”

    Also, “As part of its response to the fires, Peco installed new software so the meters shut down automatically if they overheat.”

    So now they’ll argue over who pays to switch out the Sensus ones.

    Here’s more of the article and link (at bottom):
    Peco announced Tuesday that it would resume its ambitious smart-meter installation program after pulling the plug on a manufacturer whose devices had been linked to a series of fires.

    The utility suspended the $650 million program in August after several incidents in which the electronic devices overheated and caught fire. Two of the incidents resulted in serious house fires, though none resulted in injuries.

    Peco hired Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and two independent consultants to examine the meters. Their reports convinced the utility to swap out all the meters manufactured by Sensus Metering Systems Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., with those made by a Swiss vendor, Landis & Gyr A.G.

    “We determined that the L&G meter is the best solution for Peco customers, that it performed better in the field, and that was confirmed by testing,” said Cathy Engel Menendez, Peco’s spokeswoman.

    At the time it suspended installations, Peco had deployed 201,642 meters, including 186,000 Sensus devices. Since August, it has replaced about half the Sensus meters with L&G devices.

    Peco said it would replace the remaining 96,000 Sensus meters during the next 45 days and would then resume its installation program. Customers will be notified by mail and phone before a new meter is installed.

    http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20121010_Peco_to_resume_smart-meter_installations_with_new_manufacturer.html

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    1. Thanks. Florida Power and Light (FPL) is apparently installing smart meters that are made by Sensus. I had never heard of Sensus before their presentation at the Florida PSC smart meter workshop.

      I applaud PECO for taking action. I’m familiar with the 1970s vintage analog meters made by Landis & Gyr. In side by side tests, they outperformed meters made by GEC, Schlumberger, Siemens, Ferranti, and Brown-Boveri. I hope that the Landis & Gyr smart meters continue their high quality tradition.

      What distinguished the Landis & Gyr analog meters? Consistent quality and long term stability. Most utilities must test each meter before it’s installed to make sure that it’s accurate. The Landis & Gyr meters required less calibration time than the others.

      Maybe I should hang a fire extinguisher alongside my new FPL smart meter.

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