Energy and telecommunication companies have been rolling out smart meters (electricity, gas, and water) at phenomenal speeds. The total number of smart meters installed around the world will rise from 665 million units in 2017 to more than 1.2 billion by the end of 2024. Also by 2024 penetration rates of smart meters in many countries is expected to reach up to 80%, with expenditure to double from 2017 to around $145.8 billion. If you live in the USA, then you probably already have at least one internet-connected smart meter installed on your property. Over 89 million smart electricity meters have already been rolled out in the USA representing more than 70% of households.
Connecting meters to the internet brings significant benefits to energy companies and their customers, but it also brings significant challenges. One such challenge the energy companies currently face is working out the best way to secure their smart meter assets. Should they use smartlocks with digital keys or the old metal key locks? Here are four things smartlocks and smart meters have in common, and why using smartlocks make sense.
1. Smartlocks can secure smart meters with better security.
Are metal key padlocks really going to cut it for securing the metal boxes that house the smart meters? Energy companies must take all the necessary steps available to them right now to prevent theft, vandalism and unauthorised access of smart meters and all their other critical infrastructure. They can’t afford to secure their assets that they’ve just spent billions on with low level security measures such asmetal keys locks. Anyone can cut a copy of a metal key at the local hardware store for a few dollars and give themselves or any other person unauthorised access at any time. Metal key lock cylinders can also easily be snapped, jemmied, bumped or forced open by anyone in seconds. In addition to removing the unauthorised access risk, smart locks offer another level of security with acoustic alarms and vibration sensors inbuilt that send live notifications to selected phones if any unusual activity is detected on site.
2. Smartlocks share the same technology as smart meters.
Many new smartlocks are being built with the same technology used in smart meters to connect to the internet over mobile networks. One such technology is called Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) - part of the global 5G standards. Like smart meters, NB-IoT smartlocks can be fitted with SIM cards and tiny modems, enabling them to communicate data to the cloud for analytics and more. Whereas smart meters extract daily data usage for better electricity grid load management, smartlocks can extract information such as who opened which door at what time. These live audits coupled with instant notifications can help meet OH&S laws and reduce insurance premiums. Employers have a duty of care for their employees – they must always know their whereabouts in workplaces at all times, and be fully responsible for their safety.
3. Smartlocks and smart meters save the energy companies time and money with better resource management
Installing smart padlocks with shareable digital keys on smart meters and other critical infrastructure can bring significant time and money savings to energy companies. For example, technicians will no longer be forced to drive into the energy company office at the start of the day to pick up metal keys to access assets for off-site maintenance work, and then drive back across town to the office at the end of the day to return the metal keys.
With smart locks it means technicians can go straight to their various work sites and unlock with digital keys. The digital key can be automatically emailed to workers in the morning with the day’s work schedule. When the job is finished, the digital keys can expire. It makes sense for energy companies to want to save worker time and money with smart locks. After all, saving time and money by not having to send out workers to people’s homes to read the old electricity or water meter was one of the main reasons for why the energy companies invested so heavily in smart meter rollouts in the first place.
4. Smart meters and smart locks demand the best security
Connecting devices to the internet should be done with the best technologies available. The NB-IoT technology used for connecting smart meters was built specifically for device to cloud communications with security as the top priority. NB-IoT takes advantage of in-built mobile network security and encryption features such as Private VPN’s, IPSEC security, 2048-bit RSA Chipset security, and 256 bit SSL encryption. NB-IoT is also an officially licenced IoT communications technology having met the highest quality standards and certifications set out by 3GPP/GSMA – the organisations responsible for overseeing global mobile networks.
The technologies predominantly used in smartlocks to date have not been cellular related technologies like NB-IoT. Although this is slowly changing. Most smartlocks in the market rely on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to connect to the internet. But the problems with these technologies is that they were originally designed for humans streaming live videos and downloads, and not specifically for smart devices. As a result, hardly a week goes by without a Wi-Fi/BLE smart lock hacking story in the headlines. Smart locks have earned horrible reputations for being easily hackable, insecure, and having low battery life. This has severely affected smart lock global rollouts – in 2019 only 7 million smart lock units were installed globally as compared to over 132 million smart electricity meters in the same period. Like their smart meter counterparts, smartlocks deserve state of the art security and the highest quality standards which only cellular technologies can deliver.