Every day we hear in the news how COVID-19 will affect our lives today and in the future. How the new NORMAL will be or which measures has been taken, measures which has not been taken, what is going on in other countries, etc. Those topics be our guest in our homes every evening through news or discussion programs.
Unfortunately, we less hear how COVID-19 actually offers us new opportunities. It can offer us a new beginning for issues that are constantly rejected or dismissed based on investment criteria’s, and will lead to serious positive changes in our daily working life or consumption habits.
Because of the pandemic, many white-collar workers have started or continue to work from their homes. Before that we were working at offices, at least 8 to 9 hours a day, in business centers, campus areas or other Office types.
Inevitably, this causes serious and negative impacts on the conventional electricity grid and other public services such as utility services. The systems are designed, operated and offered to subscribers according to the rules laid for more than a century ago.
In general, the residential electricity consumption used before the pandemic has changed altogether whether it is closed in the house due to partial lockdown or our changing working life. Many of the electrical devices used by white-collar workers at offices are moved to residential areas, especially due to the use of computers and modems.
In case there are more than one device in the house, it is much more intense. For example, in our home, everyone has phones besides tablets or computers. While there were no more than three clients during the day, this number increased to 3 or even 4 times. In summary, the electricity distribution network is heading towards a completely different NORMAL due to COVID-19.
Comparative invoice decision of EMRA
Let us go back to the beginning of April 2020. Since the meter readings in Turkey poses a risk for both household and meter readers, EMRA decide to create invoices based on comparison from the previous months for electricity and natural gas consumption for the following 3 months. But after receiving oversized invoices and lots of complains, it was later abandoned. The interesting thing is that no decision has been made for water bills. As if they were not in the risk group at all.
Well, was this decision wrong or was it actually correct? According to the study published by Deloitte in April 2020, household electricity consumption increased by 4% compared to the same month last year, but total consumption decreased, of course, since industrial consumption decreased (overall 23% -25%). If the same months were compared based on the data of the previous years, there were probably fewer complaints, yes, the decision was correct, the comparison method was wrong. Of course, if there is no consumption there should be a bill at all.
The health of the meter readers may pose a risk for the location of the meters because they have to come to the buildings.
The locations of meters in buildings
The meters of those living in big cities are generally outside the household. In many parts of Anatolia, meters can be found either inside the house, on the outer walls of the dwellings or on electricity poles. Normally electricity meters are in the basement, while water and gas meters are in the floor levels.
Whether they come to the buildings, enter the floors or basement, or read the meter inside the house, employees providing meter reading services are at risk in any case, and the risk can only be eliminated with remote reading systems such as AMR or AMI.
Today people need to come to buildings read the meters, control the connections since there is no 'remote' or 'Automatic Meter Reading system (AMR)' in Turkey for households. Such systems only exist for industrial and similar high consumption addresses.
Why is there no AMR/AMI at residential level?
According to an article by Anadolu Agency dated June 5, 2019, the number of electricity subscribers exceeded 44 million and it turns out that the number of residential subscribers is at 36 million. If a decision is taken today, that everyone has to be given a smart meter, a very serious investment amount will arise.
The known average value of a smart meter with a communication module for mono phase is at a price of 50 € (a price that can be obtained if millions of meters are produced). The total cost will be between 1,75 Billion and 2 Billion € (ie 10 - 15 Billion TL). Of course, operating and other costs should also be taken into account (roughly 5 - 10 € means additional costs per meter).
Turkey is due to the fact that the price paid for meter reading unit is at a very much lower value according to the OLD NORMAL this would be impossible to implement. Another obstacle is that it is not attractive for replacement of existing meters, only for reading. It is certain that Smart Meters will actually open a completely different opportunity if they are to be used for monitoring the consumption in the household, energy exchange, applying energy tariffs specific to the user, adapting voltage levels according to energy consumption, providing home energy management solutions and so on.
Although it is public benefit for all operators to unite in one infrastructure. Due to the different administrations, there is no agreement to have just one. Therefore, three different systems are tried to be constructed for three services (electricity, water and gas), which is a serious waste. The solution should be one infrastructure.
Smart Meter and European Union
According to the common decision taken earlier in the EU, it has been recommended to have by 2020 at least 80% of smart meters. According to the report prepared by Tractabel with Engie in July 2019, countries such as Scandinavia, Spain, Italy and Estonia are at the completion point, while France, Great Britain, Greece and Austria will join them by the end of 2020. Other countries give dates to 2025 and later.
According to the BBC's report in September 2019, the smart meter transition, which is said to be completed in Great Britain by 2019, was postponed to 2024. The main reason for this was cyber security and protection of personal data. Similar reasons are seen in other European Countries and elsewhere in the world.
The abstaining matter actually revolves around both the amount of investment and the protection of personal information.
Smart Counter and other countries
In North America, it is said that the application of Smart Meters will be extended until 2024 due to EU similar reasons and cost problems. Similar approach is valid in other regions.
Smart Meter and Beyond
The smart meter is not only used today to measure electricity consumption, it provides additional services to both the operating company and the end users. We will have to remember that there is a more to serve beyond the meter. Here I will try to summarize the possible weaknesses instead of repeating the advantages of smart meters.
Although digitization brings serious advantages, it also invites cyber-attacks. Unfortunately, cyber-attacks are inevitable, especially in structures that are not designed accordingly. Based on the assumption that everything can be attacked, we will need to consider how we can mitigate it with minimal damage. Today we can only prevent from known attacks, we can only install trap-like (honey-pot) systems for new types of attacks or attacks in the future. Although such also inevitable.
Denial on service, virus attacks, replacement of counter software, infiltrations, etc. are the attacks we know today. Especially attacks such as 'Notpetya' or 'Stuxnet' showed us, that there will be more to come for energy systems.
Possible mitigation solutions can be delivered based on closed design, so that only physical attacks are allowed and can be detected or robust cyber-attack protection solutions will need to be designed which means money and effort.
New Job Opportunities
Smart meters open new era for new business areas instead of just reading remotely. Each household can be evaluated like a new shop and different business models can be offered to any consumer.
We can list Home Energy Management (Home Energy Management), Service delivery to Elderly and Personal Care, Prosumer based on Renewable Energy, Digital Home Solutions (Entertainment, Safety, Comfort etc.) and many more.
The main question is…
Nowadays, COVID-19 is forcing us to stay at home and requires us to be more careful against each other. We need to ask the questions that are really important: What is the value of human life? How much money investment does human labor and health count for? Investment What is more important Investment and Money or Human Life? Where is the breakeven point for a human life?
These questions may bother you, but in recent years, investors in many countries have always argued, “Labor costs and government-paid prices are cheaper than smart and remote reading solutions”!
Human life isn’t that cheap…