22 September 2009

Of SmartGrids and HANs: The Future is Here @ GridWeek 2009

I dropped into the GridWeek conference today and found that the Smart Grid is alive and well and flush with dreams of stimulus money and full of players both big and small.

But as I toured the exhibit space in between press briefings, I couldn't help thinking that there are a heck of a lot of smart meters, Home Area Networks (HANs) and energy management web portals competing for the same, well, bandwidth.

A company I've been watching, Boulder-based Tendril was there showing off its TREE (Tendril Residential Energy Ecosystem). TREE is an in-home wireless network that allows appliances and electrical outlets to talk instantly and directly to a home energy monitor or web portal. Through the web portal consumers can understand and manage their energy consumption in real-time and adjust usage according to their needs -- even remotely. (No more calling the neighbor to have them adjust the thermostat you accidentally left set too high or too low.)

And Redwood City's Silver Spring Networks was there, too, announcing this morning that they are acquiring Greenbox Technologies (the latest venture from the creators of Flash).

This is likely the first of many such mergers and acquisitions in this space -- both vertically integrated and otherwise -- as others are talking about various interoperability partnerships.

"Interoperability" is the buzzword at GridWeek 2009, along with cybersecurity. It will become an even more important concept once the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) reveals its plan for interoperability standards and protocols. NIST is responsible for developing what amounts to the next generation communications protocols and standards.

Interoperability, according to NIST, is "the ability of diverse systems and their components to work together" and "is vitally important to the performance of the Smart Grid at every level. It enables integration, effective cooperation, and two-way communication among the many interconnected elements of the electric power grid."

In other words, these standards will allow "smart" appliances and meters to inform consumers about their power consumption and its cost. Consumers will have much more control over their power consumption and energy bills.

Such standards will also allow utilities (and decentralized power generators) "mix and manage varying supplies of solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources and better respond to changing demand."

Department of Energy Secretary Chu announced his vision for the Smart Grid on Monday (here's a link to his presentation in PDF format).

As part of his presentation, the Secretary announced a $144 million jobs training program to support implementation of the Smart Grid and an additional $44.2 million in awards to State Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) to hire and retrain PUC staff as utilities ramp up Smart Grid activities.

Secretary Chu stopped short of announcing when the first round of DOE stimulus awards would be made in the Smart Grid space, and a spokesperson later asserted that the announcement would not be made until November.

But for today and the rest of this week, the future has arrived -- and it is connected, networked, and smart.