IoT Energy Applications: From Smart Vehicles to Smart Meters

"Utilities" may not sound like a buzzword. Nonetheless, IoT is quickly making the energy sector an exciting space. From smart metering to vehicle-to-grid solutions, the utilities are primed for reinvention.

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Image of a line of light bulbs

IoT is ushering in a lot of exciting developments in virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and amplified industrial processes. We’re making “digital twins” of just about everything. IoT encompasses many innovations that make us feel more powerful, more effective, and in better control of our realities.

You know what’s not exciting? Utilities. The word alone conjures images of bills: water bills, electric bills, gas bills.

IoT can change that—or at the very least, improve it. It can’t cover your electric bill (yet), but it can optimize it. Below are two applications of IoT in the energy sector that are set to change how we measure and save energy.

IoT Energy Applications

1. Smart Meters

“A smart meter is a digital meter that leverages technology to offer you a number of immediate benefits. These benefits include providing you with more detailed information about your energy use as well as improved outage restoration and customer service.” — Pepco

Traditionally, an electricity meter would log the amount of electricity you use in your home, after which an employee from your electricity provider reads it and bills you accordingly.

With SmartEnergy, however, there are a few differences between a traditional analog meter and a smart meter:

  • An analog meter requires an employee to read it, while a smart meter transmits your energy consumption to the company for you to be billed
  • Analog meters have no way of letting you know they’ve lost power should an emergency arise; smart meters, on the other hand, send a notification to the company to alert them over power outages.
  • Analogs require yearly servicing to ensure accuracy, and smart meters only need a battery replacement every 10-20 years

Smart meters can also replace traditional water meters. One company taking advantage of that is Costco, who partnered with smart water utility company Apana to gain better insights into their own water usage and leakage. Since deployment, Costco has reported a 20% reduction in water waste and about 22% savings in their water bills. With a deeper understanding of why their water bills are as high as they are, companies (and consumers) can take steps to change their behavior and lower their bills.

2. Vehicle-to-Grid

We all take for granted that electricity is constantly available to us—look around right now and you can probably find an outlet nearby to charge your phone. If you have an electric vehicle (EV), you could probably find a charging point without too much trouble. But we generally think of energy as a one-way street—we all draw daily from power produced elsewhere. IoT is set to change that. Before we move on, however, we must make sure you understand what “the grid” actually means. 

“A utility grid is usually a commercial electric power distribution system that takes electricity from a generator (e.g., fossil fuel boiler and generator, diesel generator, wind turbines, water turbine, etc.), transmit it over a certain distance, then takes the electricity down to the consumer through a distribution system. The entire system is referred to as the grid.” — Alternative Energy

Currently, EVs receive electricity through industrial outlets, not unlike how we receive electricity in our homes to charge our devices. However, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) describes a technology that allows vehicles not only to receive electricity directly from the grid but also to return energy to the grid.

Image of vehicle-to-grid flow
Image Credit: Fleetcarma

V2G motivates many exciting shifts, such as vehicles supporting critical infrastructure in emergency services or covering the costs related to charging an electric vehicle. But it also raises important questions. How might it affect vehicle performance or operating range? How far will an electric vehicle’s charge take it in a V2G scenario? Still, V2G opens a world in which new technologies not only utilize our existing infrastructures but also give back to them.

EVs receive electricity through industrial-grade outlets. But have you heard of vehicle-to-grid? #V2G describes a technology that allows vehicles to both receive energy from and return energy to the grid. Click To Tweet

Conclusion

The benefits of IoT in utilities are really no different than the benefits of IoT in any other vertical. IoT allows for insights into energy metering previously thought impossible. It also encourages existing technologies like EVs not only to sustain themselves but to give back to the energy source. What could the end result look like? A technological ecosystem that could one day require less human touch and oversight than we’ve ever known or imagined.