Modular Smart Meters deliver flexibility, accuracy and cost savings

February 18, 2011 // By Phil Ling
Presented as the industry's most cost-effective smart-meter chipset, STMicroelectronics combines configurable 'measurement' IC with separate smart sensor chips to boost performance and hardware scalability. Asia is predicted to become the world's largest market by 2014, and large projects in Italy, France and Spain should help drive European installations beyond 100 million units by 2015.

As installations of smart meters in homes and businesses accelerate globally, STMicroelectronics has unveiled a new set of metering chips that it claims offer the industry's most accurate and cost-effective solution for next-generation smart meters.

Unlike traditional induction Watt-hour meters, which are vulnerable to wear and fraud and provide only limited features, smart meters, or electronic meters, are intelligent devices that have no moving parts and can support sophisticated tamper detection and two-way communication for improved grid management and billing. More specifically, smart meters allow automatic remote meter readings by power utility companies and make energy consumption transparent and directly manageable for consumers.

Smart meters are a key enabler for the 'Smart Grid', a term that is widely used to describe the next generation of intelligent and digital networks that will add functions of monitoring, analysis, control and communication to the electricity grid to improve the reliability and efficiency, control costs and increase capacity. Smart grids are being designed to help meet the energy challenges of the 21st century, such as reducing consumption, managing energy from renewable sources, and handling the charging needs created by the increasingly widespread use of hybrid and electric vehicles.

In addition to smart meters, a key technology required to enable these intelligent and reliable networks is Power-Line Communications (PLC). ST's PLC chip solutions have already been massively employed in major national smart-metering infrastructure deployments, along with state-of-the-art metrology chips, or 'measurement' chips.

Smart meters include two main functions: a high-accuracy modulator for sensed current and voltage signals and a dedicated metrology processor to calculate energy consumption. In the next few years, smart-metrology functions are also expected to be widely adopted in home appliances, air-conditioning and power-supply systems. Single-phase metering chips such as ST's existing solutions – the STPM01, STPM10 and STPM11/12/13/14 chips – effectively integrate these functions in a single component.

However, in three-phase, or poly-phase, smart meters for industrial applications, a modular approach that