Advancing M2M Solutions for Energy

by Olivier Pauzet, Sierra Wireless

More than ever, energy companies can connect more remote assets using wireless wide-area network (WWAN) public cellular networks. And with machine-to-machine (M2M) management systems, they can apply fully developed, comprehensive M2M platforms to deploy applications much more easily and inexpensively.

M2M improves how energy companies manage remote assets, but it’s not a radical departure from current operations. M2M platforms are built upon assets deployed in the field. Existing sensors, control systems and equipment can be connected, including: programmable logic controllers (PLCs); data loggers; DC to AC power inverters; energy and water meters; temperature and humidity sensors; and level, pressure and flow sensors.

In the past, the cost of building a communication system to connect these assets proved too cost-prohibitive for most energy companies; doing so from scratch is an enormous, expensive and time-consuming project. It must include a redundant, fault-tolerant wireless messaging system and also requires redundant back-office hardware, including a database, servers, disk arrays and load balancers.

What’s more, to meet energy companies’ needs, an M2M communication platform requires extensive software development, including the development of the application, user interface, embedded software, security layer and specific protocols—all of which have required thousands of hours of custom integration and development.

Then, consider that many applications, although vital to a remote communications and control infrastructure, are often overlooked. These include: mechanisms to subscribe wireless devices to the network; mechanisms to control and update wireless devices; systems to collect information from the wireless devices and other systems to acquire and visualize that data; and systems to manage and control the assets being monitored.

Many energy companies could not justify the cost of implementing wireless M2M communications, but this is no longer the case. Energy companies can take advantage of comprehensive, fully mature M2M application development and management platforms that operate over public cellular networks and realize the benefits of remote monitoring and control much more quickly and cost-effectively. When implementing a cellular M2M solution, however, it is important to ensure that the platform provides all essential capabilities for modern cellular M2M deployments.

A wireless M2M communications platform encompasses five primary elements: wireless communication devices to connect to equipment and assets; a front-end database where the wireless devices send data securely; a command-and-control infrastructure to receive and present that data; integration with operator networks to manage connections and monitor usage; and an application monitoring interface (API) to link data from the M2M front-end database with the company’s back-end system applications and user interfaces. In addition, the M2M management platform must manage subscriptions, wireless devices and the underlying asset.

The rapid expansion in M2M is a result of the many operational benefits and cost savings involved. One company that is benefiting from the advancements in M2M applications is EDMI, a global leader in energy metering products, smart metering infrastructure and energy management systems.

To build cellular automated metering infrastructure (AMI) solutions, EDMI chose a Sierra Wireless AirPrime embedded wireless module featuring an application framework (Open AT) designed specifically for M2M communications. This application framework allows EDMI to leverage on the processing power of the module to build embedded application into the module itself and customize the modem for diverse market needs. Theirs is just one of countless examples of M2M being leveraged to maximum benefit.

The evolution of M2M is ongoing, making it easier than ever to find turnkey solutions that can be implemented quickly and that bring reliability and longevity that add up to a measurable value-added proposition.

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