SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The USNAP Alliance and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) will merge separate efforts to develop a modular interface specification for linking consumer gear to a smart grid. The collaboration is one step toward a broader convergence still in the works.
The groups are responding to a request from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to merge efforts and deliver them to a formal standards group. NIST is leading efforts to drive standards for smart grids.
Several protocols and network types are vying to carry smart grid data to consumer devices. They include the EPRI and USNAP protocols, the Smart Energy Profile, OpenADR and a handful of vendor-specific protocols. They may ride over a variety of powerline, Wi-Fi, Zigbee or vendor specific nets such as Z-Wave.
In October, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers picked Smart Energy 2.0 and OpenADR as their two most favored application-layer protocols. The group blessed HomePlug GreenPHY powerline and Wi-Fi and Zigbee wireless for the network and media layers.
Whirpool Corp. made a public commitment to ship in 2011 a million dryers ready to plug into a smart electric grid if there was a suitable networking standard the company could use. Proponents hope the merged efforts of USNAP and EPRI help pave the road for such efforts.
EPRI, a research arm supported by major utilities, finished in January a draft of its Demand Response Socket Interface Specification, working with a variety of appliance, consumer and communications companies. It defines a Direct Current power link, a simple command set geared for low-end appliances such as water heaters and a pass through mechanism for multiple protocols.
In December, USNAP published the 2.0 version of a spec defining a 1.5 square inch module for a wired or wireless chip with a DC link and a ten-pin connector that sends data to a system using the Serial Peripheral Interface. A half dozen small companies started shipping products this year using USNAP 1.0.
The two groups aim to finish in about six months a spec that merges the best of both efforts. It will include the EPRI command set and support both the separate Smart Energy 2.0 and OpenADR protocols.
"The two specifications are similar in technical approach and are nearly identical in their basic purpose," said Brian Seal, senior project manager for EPRI, in a press release. "We are making great progress in merging the specifications, retaining the best attributes from each and coordinating with related standards organizations," he said
Many smart meters have already adopted Zigbee and the Smart Energy Profile. Barry Haaser, executive director of the USNAP Alliance, believes many broadband devices and nets will adopt OpenADR due to its use of XML schemas. That may force a requirement for Smart Energy/OpenADR gateways, he said.
The merged EPRI/USNAP spec could be useful for devices from either side of the home network. Vendors will still have to decide which wired or wireless networks to support, but they will be able to do it with a single module, he said.