Eight Must-have Components for Energy Meters

Energy meters have taken many different forms since they were first created for widespread commercial use in the 1880s. Similar to traditional gas meters, electric energy meters were required to bill customers for the cost of energy, instead of billing for a fixed number of lamps per month. Early types of electrochemical meters that were used in the UK consisted of a vertically mounted glass structure with a mercury reservoir at the top of the meter. Fast forward to today, and we have smart energy meters, thanks in large part to technology enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity.

Oct 1st, 2017
Content Dam Up En Articles Print Volume 21 Issue 9 Product Focus Eight Must Have Components For Energy Meters Leftcolumn Article Thumbnailimage File

By Mike Bolduc

Energy meters have taken many different forms since they were first created for widespread commercial use in the 1880s. Similar to traditional gas meters, electric energy meters were required to bill customers for the cost of energy, instead of billing for a fixed number of lamps per month. Early types of electrochemical meters that were used in the UK consisted of a vertically mounted glass structure with a mercury reservoir at the top of the meter. Fast forward to today, and we have smart energy meters, thanks in large part to technology enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity.

Modern day energy meters can display the energy used on an LCD or LED screen, and some can also transmit readings to remote places. They can also support time-of-day billing, record the amount of energy used during on-peak and off-peak hours, and advise the end customer the best—and cheapest—time of day to do the laundry or run the dishwasher.

While this added functionality makes for an easier, more efficient measurement system, there are some environmental factors that must be considered in the design phase. Outdoor energy meters must be able to endure harsh environmental conditions, such as wide temperature ranges, rain, snow, salt and humidity that can corrode the contacts and lead to failure. The switches specified for use on these meters—ranging from the detect and snap devices used for tamper prevention to the tact switches used to actuate and navigate the display—must be rugged and reliable enough to withstand these conditions for many years.

Following are some of the examples of the switches typically found in today’s smart meters that help meet these requirements.

Snap and Detect Switches

Because energy meters are typically placed outdoors and can’t be visually monitored by the utility, they can easily be tampered with by users who want to get free electricity. Detect and snap switches make it harder for people to tamper with the meter’s internal electronics by sending a signal to the utility in the event the meter’s cover is pulled off.

Tact Switches

Modern smart meters now have the ability to monitor energy usage, communicate cost information to the end customer through a display screen, as well as shut off the service remotely for lack of payment. Tact switches are commonly used to activate and navigate these displays by the end customer or by a technician when there is a need for maintenance or upgrades.

SIM Card Sockets

In addition to the typical electromechanical switch, many modern smart meters also incorporate SIM card sockets for use with an internal modem that can communicate usage and billing information between the utility and remote locations. SIM cards can also serve the dual purpose of accepting payment cards for pre-paid, or pay as you go, meters.

The Eight Essential Components

All switches and design functionality considered, today’s sophisticated energy meters must come equipped with certain components that will keep them measuring electric energy accurately and efficiently. Let’s take a look inside at some of the essential components that make this possible:

  • 1. Current transformer: Current transformers use magnetic field measurement to determine the current flowing from utility into building.

  • 2. Power converter: This converts analog (utility) power to digital power to drive components on the meter.

  • 3. Processor: Processors carry programming logic and serve as the “brains” of the meter.

  • 4. Modem: The modem enables the meter to communicate wirelessly with the utility.

  • 5. Internal battery: This allows the meter to communicate with the utility (through the modem) in the event power to the meter is cut off.

  • 6. Operator interface: The interface is the point of contact for customer or service technicians—it’s how they interact with meter to extract information about billing history, functional issues and more.

  • 7. Cover tamper switch: These are the aforementioned snap and detect switches used to determine if the meter’s cover has been removed or interfered with.

  • 8. Hall effect sensor: This sensor can determine if someone is using a high-power magnet to “saturate” the current transformers and prevent correct power readings.

No matter what form, shape, size or embedded technology, the proper switches and components to activate these meters are needed to ensure the smooth flow of energy to home owners, business occupancy and beyond. We’ve come a long way from the humble beginnings of energy meters, but one thing remains the same: We still need hardware to power them. UP


About the author: Mike Bolduc is global marketing manager at C&K, where he is responsible for leading market strategy and global growth efforts for the industrial and medical business segments. Bolduc has an engineering and business background and more than 25 years of diversified experience in the automotive, semiconductor, HVAC, aerospace, industrial and medical industries working for large global corporations such as Texas Instruments and Stanley Black & Decker. For more information, please visit http://www.ckswitches.com.

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