News Feature | December 29, 2015

Tapping Into The Power Of Smart Meters

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A company wants to apply smart meter computing capacity to tasks ranging from cracking cancer’s genetic code, to forecasting the long-range weather impacts of climate change.

The capabilities of smart water and electric meters are astounding, going far beyond what consumers may normally associate with this technology. GreenTechMedia recently documented just how powerful these devices can be.

“We’ve been tracking how utilities and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) vendors are putting them to use to detect power outages, connect home energy devices, and even serve as nodes of a distributed computing architecture for the grid edge,” the report said.

Angel Orrantia, co-founder of startup Hive Computing, gave some insight on their capabilities.

“The communications cards in most modern smart meters have roughly the same computing power as a cellphone,” the report said, citing Orrantia. “Most of the time, they’re sitting idle — and that represents a huge computing resource.”

Hive is experimenting with unconventional ways of tapping into smart meter power. It wants to apply smart meter computing capacity to “tasks ranging from cracking cancer’s genetic code, to forecasting the long-range weather impacts of climate change, Orrantia explained in an interview. Over the past year, the company has written the software to farm out computing tasks that meters could work on when they’re not busy, ‘built on the premise that a lot of these communications modules are relying, basically, on smartphone processors,’” the report said.

Eric Frazier, co-founder of the startup company, spoke to a Forbes analyst about the idea. He said that “10,000 meters gets you into the range of a supercomputer with a teraflop (1 trillion floating operations per second) of processing power. A million meters represents two petaflops (two quadrillion operations per second) of capacity,” according to the report.

How would this business model look? Utilities would be paid for lending out smart meter computing capacity.

“Hive plans to charge users, since it wants to pay the utilities for the privilege of borrowing their AMI computing power. In that sense, Hive would be competing against cloud computing providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and Google, which make unused servers available for similar computing tasks,” the report said, citing Orrantia.

Cloud servicers already sell their extra capacity to consumers.

“They have to build their infrastructure for peak usage, and when it’s not at peak usage, they can sell that compute time to people who take advantage of it. We’re doing the same thing,” Orrantia said. “The difference is, we don’t have to pay for the underlying hardware, we don't have to cool it, and we don’t have to worry about the underlying power consumption.”

In a time of drought and water scarcity, analysts say the conservation impacts of smart water meter technology are pivotal.

"It is such a critical tool for managing water consumption," said Lon House, a water and energy expert who has consulted with the California Energy Commission, per Government Technology.

“The smart meter market is being led by gas and electric utilities, but water agencies are close behind, House said. With increased pressure to conserve in California, he said, he thinks the devices will become more prevalent statewide,” the report said.

For more on smart metering, visit Water Online’s AMR, AMI And Metering Solutions Center.