Summary:

Honeywell bought a lock on a key piece of technology for OpenADR deployments when it bought Akuacom this summer. But challengers are emerging with OpenADR server products of their own.

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When Honeywell bought Akuacom this summer, it bought a lock on the market for a key piece of technology for OpenADR, an open source specification to help utilities automate demand response. That technology is Akuacom’s demand response automation server (DRAS). Right now, if you’re a utility that wants to use OpenADR to control customers loads, you’ve got to turn to Akuacom’s DRAS to do it.

But challengers are emerging to that dominance, according to my weekly update at GigaOm Pro, “OpenADR: Alliances and Upstarts” (subscription required). Albert Chiu, Pacific Gas & Electric’s senior program manager for demand response, said in an interview last week that he knows of three companies he believes are working on OpenADR DRAS’s of their own — Lafayette, Calif.-based Utility Integrated Solutions (UISOL), Chicago-based Stonewater Control Systems, and Lockheed Martin.

UISOL — a company with deep roots in OpenADR — confirmed it was building its own DRAS, but declined to comment further. Lockheed said it has developed a prototype of a DRAS, but wouldn’t comment on any plans for a commercial product, though it is working with partners like home energy management startup Tendril on OpenADR systems (For more on OpenADR, check out my report at GigaOm Pro, “Report: An Open Source Smart Grid Primer” (subscription required).)

Stonewater, which makes software and hardware to manage building energy for utilities including Chicago’s Commonwealth Edison and companies including Gap Inc., is in the OpenADR market with another device, a client logic integrated relay (CLIR) box, which interfaces between a DRAS and an individual building’s energy management system. Stonewater president Kevin Kriegel said that Southern California Edison is using the company’s CLIR devices for some of its OpenADR deployments. While he wouldn’t comment on any plans for a DRAS, he did say that Stonewater will be moving from a behind-the-scenes technology provider to supplying the market under its own Energy1st and Control1st brands.

Right now, OpenADR only serves about 85 megawatts of load in California, a tiny sliver of the overall demand response market. But it’s the only standard so far named by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for automating demand response, and that will make it very popular some day. Utilities in North America and Asia want to use it, and Siemens, Schneider Electric, Johnson Controls and Echelon are incorporating OpenADR into their building management systems.

While Honeywell might have an interest in keeping the market to itself, customers would obviously like to open it. As PG&E’s Chiu said, “As a utility, I want to make sure I’m not just stuck with one company that’s the only choice.” Vendors, too, might have issues with one company controlling the technology link between utilities and buildings. “The whole idea of OpenADR is that it wouldn’t be held hostage to a proprietary solution,” Stonewater’s Kriegel said.

Last month, the utility standards development group UCAIug completed its work on the first version of OpenADR system requirements, and a version 2.0 is coming. That may move OpenADR into a place where one vendor can’t be said to have a lock on just how it’s implemented anymore. In the meantime, more contenders are likely to emerge — stay tuned for more developments.

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