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Alliance aims to bring smart grid to home nets

Posted: 29 Mar 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:smart grid? home network? Zigbee? Bluetooth?

The 2.0 version also makes improvements in the SPI software. "There were some short cuts taken in original spec that SPI developers didn't appreciate," Haaser said.

"Products based on version 1 will be on retail shelves at Home Depot this summer," he said, noting four prototypes were shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. "We will see a wave of version 2 products used in utility smart grid trials this summer, and we could pull together version 3 in a few months," he added.

A version 3 could add support for powerline networks and the Smart Energy 2.0 protocol.

Modularity cost
While ambitious, the U-Snap effort has several shortcomings including its costs and lack of broad backing.

Current alliance members include American Electric Power, Google, meter maker Itron, Portland General Electric, Direct Energy, Zensys, and chip companies Gainspan, Marvell and Microchip.

Although a handful of utilities are members of the alliance, it lacks buy in from the largest regional utilities. "We'd love to see the California utilities join, and some of the big systems companies like Whirlpool, Carrier, Honeywell, Panasonic and Samsung," said Haaser, noting TVs, PCs and smart phones should also have access to smart grid nets. Consumer companies want big volumes, the industry, however, is not here yet, according to Haaser.

NIST has expressed concern the alliance is not a formal standards group. Haaser said the alliance has decided it wants to mature its specs before it takes them to formal standards groups which tend to move slowly.

One of the biggest problems with the U-Snap approach is its added costs.

"Modularity has a cost, and it may be too much to support in the appliance industry where a few cents of component cost makes a difference in being profitable or not," said Erich Gunther, chief technology officer for EnerNex. "Also, the mechanical considerations for the physical modular interface vary greatly for different appliances," he said.

"AHAM seems to want to support a much simpler interface that can help them control those costs," he added. Ease of use for consumers is also a concern for appliance makers, said David Wollman, a NIST organizer working on smart grid standards.

"What they are looking for is an agreement on a set of limited standards they can implement straight into an appliance and let it be available nationwide," said Wollman. "They are looking not for four or five standards but a couplemaybe one wired and one wireless#8212;or ideally, just one," he said.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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