Open Google Talk and you know right away whether your friends are logged in, offline or idle — it’s called “presence” and it’s all over the web. By using the same protocol behind instant messaging, demand-response company EnerNOC now hopes to move beyond its core business and bring that same level of awareness to smart meters on the grid. Is it a LOL move?
The Boston-based company on Tuesday launched PowerTalk, which uses the open XMPP protocol — used for instant messaging, chat rooms, and voice and video calls — to monitor smart meters and other devices. Any Internet-enabled device can use PowerTalk, and instead of having the system electronically read the meters, say, every five minutes, PowerTalk enables devices to automatically send their statuses to EnerNOC’s network. EnerNOC is installing the technology in all its new devices and is already using it with more than 250 customers,
CEO President David Brewster tells us.
It’s an interesting move, given that EnerNOC is one of the largest demand-response firms. Demand-response services help utilities prevent outages by reducing customers’ power usage — at utilities’ request — during times of high electricity demand. Grid operators buy the unused power, and the services and their customers split the cash. With PowerTalk, EnerNOC plans to add services like real-time outage and voltage information so that utilities would know when they had a power outage or a voltage fluctuation instantly. “Utilities don’t know they’ve had an outage until someone calls them up,” Brewster said. “Now they know instantly if the power is out, and would also get instantaneous voltage readings.”
PowerTalk can also make EnerNOC’s current demand-response services more accurate. The idea is that the technology will give EnerNOC more up-to-date information about its customers’ systems, so that grid operators will know exactly how much electricity is available to them through demand-response services at any time. Having this information will make grid operators feel more confident about using demand response instead of power plants to avoid outages, Brewster said. “Grid operators are used to getting feeds from central power stations at second intervals,” he said. “This levels the playing field for demand response, and I think it’s going to play a major role in making grid operators feel comfortable with this resource.”
PowerTalk also has made it quicker and easier to set up new customers by eliminating the need to establish virtual private networks and to coordinate and send out status requests. And whereas meters previously would send a message back every time they received a request, with PowerTalk the meters will only send a message if their status changes, Brewster said. “There’s not a lot of overhead, because it’s not constantly sending ‘I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.’ We’ll just know instantly if anything changes.”
EnerNOC claims that using an open standards-based communications protocol, which has been around for a long time, will make its system more interoperable. But that, of course, depends on whether the rest of the industry signs up to use it, says Jesse Berst, managing director of Global Smart Energy. And with plenty of other potential protocols out there, XMPP will likely face some competition in becoming an industry standard.