Home sweet home

Tantalus Home Area NetworkAlong with providing internal benefits, the holy grail of a smart energy program is bringing capabilities to the home. In essence, a utility will be able to offer their smart energy programs into a Home Area Network (HAN). While still in the early stage, smart devices such as smart thermostats are something that utilities are looking at.

Obviously, the installation of a smart meter on the side of a home that communicates with the utility about usage could be the first step to make that home connection. One of the emerging areas of innovation in the home will be smart energy devices, including smart thermostats and consumer appliances (washing machines).

Stepping up to integrate the HAN for smart grid deployments to support these devices are the Home Plug Forum and the ZigBee Alliance. ZigBee, an alliance that focuses on providing wireless communications for HANs, has been pushing its ZigBee Smart Energy version 2.0 standard. Thus far, ZigBee IP-based wireless communications technology has been deployed in more than 40 million smart meters.

Meanwhile, the Home Plug Powerline Alliance, a major contributor to the IEEE's P1901 Powerline networking standard, reached a milestone to make powerline one of the accepted standards for home distribution technologies for smart grid-enabled HANs this April. With 80 percent affirmative votes in hand for the initial sponsor ballot, the IEEE P1901 working group expects that a global powerline standard will be officially ratified in Q3 2010.
With many large utilities such as and others onto its consortium including American Electric Power, Duke Energy and Southern California Edison, Home Plug has also been finalizing the work on its Green PHY, which provides a low-power Smart Energy/Smart Grid standard.

But with many service providers looking to expand the utility of their home network services, the question is how can their standard help drive collaboration for energy management programs with traditional service providers? Although Rob Ranck, President of the Home Plug Powerline Alliance, would not reveal any service providers that are moving into the smart grid arena, he noted that some utilities are open to working with service providers.

"I have already heard some utilities companies say as ‘far as networks in the home, we're beginning to think we need to find a service provider partner to help us roll it out and scale it because they know how to do networks," Ranck said.

Ranck added that adding that other utilities could extend smart grid capabilities to the home themselves. "People are going to develop what they need for their territories and customer base. If the regulatory environments are specific to the decisions made within each state and town, you should expect the technology choices to have some diversity too."

Such an idea is music to the ears of service providers like Qwest that have been rolling out home networking services to their subscriber base as part of a broadband bundle. Qwest is open to working with utilities to bring smart energy capabilities into a home network.

"Our point of view is that utility companies and utilities need to work together and have open standards and we need to have access to that information so we're really taking a wait and see approach," said Qwest's Leo. "Knowing that home networking is a big piece of our future as a company, we started deploying wireless modems to 100 percent of our customers knowing that wireless is not just for connecting laptops and gaming machines anymore, but also for refrigerators and hopefully smart meters of the future."

Smart Grid, Smart Energy

Related articles:
IEEE sets foundation for global powerline network standard
Atheros pushing WiFi/powerline combo for smart grid
Maravedis: Smart grids and the new utility

Home sweet home