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Smart grid standard falls short of interoperability

Posted: 07 Dec 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:standards? home area network? smart grid?

A group that has been working to set standards for home area networks in the United States has agreed on a co-existence mechanism for powerline networks in the country. However, the government-led group opted not to require interoperability for a number of competing approaches.

The members of the group say that the unanimous agreement on a non-interference approach is a victory. But it's not clear if manufacturers of home appliances and gateways agree that the standards will help them build networked products.

More than a year ago, Whirpool Corp. made a public commitment to ship a million dryers ready to plug into a smart electric grid if there was a suitable networking standard the company could use. Organizers of the government-led standards effort said they didn't want the lack of a standard to make Whirpool renege on that promise.

The powerline agreement came in a December 2 vote of the so-called Priority Action Plan 15. PAP-15 is one of a broad set of standards efforts under the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel convened by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The PAP-15 harmonizes two existing implementations of a co-existence mechanism for powerline. Both IEEE 1901 and ITU G.hn use the so-called Inter-System Protocol (ISP) method of co-existence originally proposed by Panasonic.

However, "the two recommendations went through separate comment resolution phases conducted by the two independent groups and this resulted in producing a slight incompatibility between the two mechanisms," said Stefano Galli, lead scientist, Panasonic, who helped define ISP and led the PAP-15 group.

In its latest report, PAP-15 recommended the smart grid group mandate that all current and future broadband powerline networks use one of the now-interoperable non-interference approaches. The move is "a refreshing success story [given] the often acrimonious state of the PLC industry," said Galli.

"Coexistence does not replace interoperability nor [does it] narrow down the choice of which PLC technology to deploy, it only solves the problem of mutual interference created by deploying non-interoperable technologies," said Galli in an email exchange.

Market selection
The market, not a standards group, should define what home network technology is best for appliances and other consumer systems, he said. "Coexistence will allow the industry to align behind the right PLC technology for the right application on the basis of field deployment data and market selection not on the basis of questionable and subjective pre-selection strategies," he said.

The outcome "accomplishes the objective" of the group, said George Arnold, national coordinator of smart grid standards at NIST. He agreed with Galli that market groups, not standards efforts, should make fin al decisions on which networking approaches are best for mart grid links in the home.

"We have been encouraging the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers to study the needs of this industry and evaluate the available communications options against their requirements," said Arnold. "They have recently released a report which provides recommendations that should be helpful to the appliance industry in choosing communications interfaces for appliances," he said in an email exchange.

At least four major broadband powerline technologies are currently in useHomePlug AV, HD-PLC, the LonWorks technology of Echelon and a powerline variant developed by the former DS2, now part of Marvell. Chips for a fifth approach, based on the ITU G.hn standard, are in development by as many as eight companies.

Powerline is just one of several media for energy monitoring networks in the home. The Wi-Fi Alliance is also studying use of that technology for such nets.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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