SAN JOSE, Calif. Members of the ad hoc U-Snap Alliance hope to field this summer the first products based on its specifications for carrying smart grid data over home networks. It is one of a handful of new efforts seeking ways to unite today's fragmented wired and wireless technologies for emerging energy applications.
So-called demand response applications are expected to be big drivers of the move to a smart electric grid. That's because they will appeal to consumer's wallets, letting them monitor and adjust their energy use during peak and off-peak hours to lower their utility bills.
But such applications have been stymied by the fragmented nature of today's home networks and the diversity of powered systems in the home.
Many utilities see Zigbee as a de facto home network of choice. Thus it is built into to a majority of the smart meters going into field trials today.
However, some vendors are promoting various flavors of powerline networks as natural for demand response apps in the home. Meanwhile backers of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a handful of proprietary wireless networks are gearing up to be the carriers of energy data.
"You have a whole class of manufacturers on the sidelines because they don't know what to build and utilities don't find adoption because there is no standard," said Barry Haaser, executive director of the 30-member U-Snap Alliance that has defined a plug-in slot and low-level protocol to bring smart grid data to systems on a home network.
The need for a unified approach is so great that government planners at the National Institute of Standards and Technology warned last fall they might mandate a solution as part of a national effort to draft smart grid standards if industry doesn't pick one in a timely manner. The threat of government intervention from NIST has helped motivate as many as four efforts to date.
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers has enlisted EnerNex Corp., a consulting firm that is also helping NIST organize smart grid standards efforts, to draft a detailed review of all home network technologies. AHAM hopes the review will help it decide how to advise members on the issues.
Meanwhile, a powerline working group that is part of the broad NIST effort has created a committee to hammer out by mid-May a set of coexistence standards for the various flavors of powerline networks. The charter covers both narrow and broadband versions of powerline nets, according to Stefano Galli, a lead scientist at Panasonic R&D Company of America chairing the committee which has posted online an update on its efforts.
The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP), an overarching board driving the NIST effort, has chartered a separate group to investigate ways to harmonize wireless home network standard. The group, chaired by a standards director from the Consumer Electronics Association, has not yet reached a conclusion about what path to pursue.
Another committee under the SGIP has drafted a white paper taking the position that the market must be left to decide what physical layer technologies will be best suited for linking appliances in the home.
"No knowledge base exists on how consumers will utilize smart appliances, [and] no single technology choice can cover all applications," says the draft paper now online. "Allowing any mechanism other than the market to decide is not only ill advised, it is anti-competitive," it concludes.