Lately, the world has been directed to the digitalization of all industrial sectors, replacing human beings with machines. By the evolution of machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT), new smart machines enabled easier, faster and more accurate data through cost-saving devices. Also, these devices are saving human efforts and enabling distant working, which is the future trend.

One of the neonates of IoT technology is the new smart meter solutions. Smart meters have emerged within the past few years to measure energy consumption, replacing traditional meters in homes and commercial institutions. Before discussing smart meters, it is essential to understand, briefly, how IoT technology works.

IoT Enables Smart Gas Meter

IoT is the concept of connecting any device to the internet and other connected devices. It is a giant network of connected things and/or people that allows for the sharing and collecting data. It generally refers to scenarios where network connectivity and computing capability extend to objects, sensors and everyday items not normally considered computers; allowing these devices to generate, exchange and consume data with minimal human intervention.

Devices and objects are provided with sensors that are connected to an IoT platform which integrates data from different devices and applies analytics. These sensors are recognizing any changes that can happen. They can measure physical changes like temperature, light, height, pressure, etc. This concept generated the idea of applying smart gas meters.

Karim Heakal, Head of Pipelines projects at the Egyptian Natural Gas company (GASCO), defined Smart gas meters as tools used to manage and record gas consumption and performance of gas devices at homes. Heakal said “what makes the meters ‘smart’ is their ability to provide detailed and accurate analytics on gas usage in real-time or at predetermined intervals, all without a technician”.

Types of Smart Meters

Mohamed El Gamal, Project Manager at Smart Gas company, explained that there are two types of smart gas meters. El Gamal explained that “the [first one is] prepayment meter, where you use a card to load more money onto your meter. Just like a mobile phone, money is taken from that balance every time you use gas, and if you run out of credit, your gas will be temporarily switched off until you top up.”

El Gamal added that the second type is a network-capable device that measures gas consumption of a building or home with two-way communication between the meter and the central system (supplier). “Communications from the meter to the network may be wireless, or via fixed wired connections such as power line carrier (PLC). Wireless communication options in common use include cellular communications (which can be expensive), Wi-Fi (readily available)”, El Gamal elaborated.

Smart Gas Meters Benefits

Smart gas meter solutions provide real-time data and analysis. This will enable showing how much gas is being used precisely which help in making better decisions about how to use natural gas. Additionally, this will prevent wrong estimation that many people may face when the time comes to pay their bills and give accurate consumption readings.

Seham Osman Abd El Hady, a natural gas consumer, said that the main problem she is facing in using traditional gas meters is that the readings are not frequently taken by the collector. In addition, the collector’s working hours are not convenient with hers. “From my point of view, I can see that applying smart gas meters would facilitate the methods of reading and payment for both sides”, Abd El Hady explained.

Additionally, Bassem Bellal, another user, advocated this opinion commenting that “[smart meters] provide actual reading, enabling monitoring gas system in real time and more control of consumption”. In parallel, Sara Gado, one of the natural gas consumers, welcomes smart natural gas meters utilization saying that “[traditional gas meters] are hard to be read and big in size, but I think smart meters will be easier to be used and pay for as well”.

Another important benefit from smart meter usage is that it ensures safety through eliminating needed house visits to get readings as well as collecting the bills. It facilitates getting the readings remotely and paying without any need for having collectors come over. All the insights of consumers and experts concurred that this issue is vital nowadays due to coronavirus outbreak.

Possible Challenges of Application

Despite these advantages of smart gas meters, its application may confront some challenges. El Gamal explained that “it tends to be more expensive; you’ll pay more when you use more and if you run out of credit, you’ll be cut off”. Keeping on the same track, Ghaydaa Gamal, a consumer for natural gas, saw that the application of such solution is not beneficial in Egypt, preferring the traditional meters by saying “it [will] make the consumer pay every second or the service will be cut.”

In addition, Heakal noted that the application of this new solution may place more responsibility upon the consumer for maintenance.

Mohamed Tawfiq, Head of Quality Assurance Department at Cairo Gas, noted several pieces of advice for the problems that may be faced when applying smart meters. Tawfiq stated that “before starting to use such smart solution, it should be tried to avoid any probable problems may occur while usage.” He added that costs of exchanging traditional meters by smart ones should be considered and shouldn’t overburden the consumers.

Smart Gas Meters in the Egyptian Market

During the last year, the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources (MoP) adopted the trend of applying the prepaid smart gas meters solution across the state. In April 2019, the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding company (EGAS) signed a cooperation protocol with the National Organization for Military Production (NOMP) for improving and producing prepayment smart gas meters under the international standards. According to the protocol, the Ministry of Military Production will design the prepayment method for smart gas meters and provide technical support for its operation.

In August 2019, an official source in EGAS said that the MoP will install and activate 20,000 prepaid gas meters during H2 of 2019. The official elaborated that these meters will be implemented in the new compounds of Bashayer Al Khair 2 and Al Asmarat, in the cities of Alexandria and Cairo, respectively.

The experts commented on these efforts, optimistically, seeing that these smart solutions will reflect positively on the local market. Tawfiq mentioned that “the application of smart gas meters will benefit the Egyptian market by saving the collectors’ salaries who will change their working filed to another activity more important than reading meters and collecting bills”.

Boosting this view point, Heakal said that “in the next years, whole world will change the manual concept into technological concept specially in paying bills and self -services like online shopping also the gas meter will serve this plan to eliminate the reading workers to use them in another duties”. For El Gamal, the new smart solutions “will enrich the technology market [in Egypt] and reduce of course the cost of bill collection.”

Future Scope

The Global Market Insights published in 2018, a report about the smart gas metering systems market, stating that its revenues reached more than $1 billion in 2016. The report covered smart metering market systems in 24 countries worldwide including Egypt. It predicted an increase in the revenues from using smart gas meters reaching to $9 billion at Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of over 21% between the years of 2017 and 2024.

Additionally, Markets and Markets published in March 2020, a report where it mentioned that global smart meters market size is expected to grow from estimated revenue of $20.7 billion in 2020 to $28.6 billion in 2025 at CAGR of 6.7%.

Consequently, these numbers, in addition to the efforts exerted in that trend worldwide, indicate that the era of traditional meters will end soon in Egypt and in the whole world as well.