Summary:

French power giant Alstom is buying smart grid software developer UISOL, as it chases competitor Honeywell into an open source way to automate demand response: turning down buildings’ power use to manage peak loads. But how open will OpenADR be after it’s folded in?

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French power giant Alstom is buying Utility Integrated Solutions (UISOL), a key player in the emerging open standard called OpenADR that helps utilities order thousands of buildings to turn down their power use to manage peak loads, a process also known as demand response. Following Honeywell’s purchase of OpenADR server maker Akuacom last year, it’s another sign that the Berkeley Labs-developed protocol for letting smart grids and smart buildings talk to each other is reaching critical mass. Whether UISOL will remain as involved in open-source developments once it’s behind the corporate veil remains to be seen.

Alstom’s immediate plans for the Santa Clara, Calif.-based UISOL are to invest in its software, which helps utilities monitor and manage their demand response programs. The software is already in use by U.S. grid operators including PJM, MISO and California ISO, and it accounts for much of UISOL’s sales of $11 million last year. (Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed).

UISOL has been working on OpenADR implementations with a long list of partners, including Tendril, Control4, and yes, Alstom. At the same time, it has been developing the open-source code for OpenADR as part of a contract with Berkeley Labs. I’ve asked the companies what their future plans for open-source development may be, but haven’t heard back yet.

OpenADR is being used in a number of utility pilots in California and is catching on elsewhere, including China. Honeywell announced earlier this month that it’s working with State Grid Corp. of China on an OpenADR pilot that could represent a huge entrance into the country’s as-yet untapped demand response market.

Honeywell, of course, got there through Akuacom, the San Rafael, Calif. startup that developed servers for Berkeley Labs’ first OpenADR pilots in California. UISOL was also involved in those; in fact, the OpenADR world is quite small. But as a de facto standard for federal smart grid projects, it’s growing fast. Siemens, Schneider Electric, Johnson Controls and Echelon are incorporating OpenADR into their building management systems.

The big question for open source fans is whether UISOL will keep up its leading role as the evangelist of an “open” OpenADR. Alstom announced it would keep the company’s U.S. offices open and keep its consulting and services lines up and running at the same time as it seeks to expand its software to new markets. But it’s unclear whether Alstom will keep up UISOL’s open-source development relationship with Berkeley Labs in terms of updating and revising the OpenADR open-source code. The company could decide to concentrate on more profitable lines of business.

Beyond that, however, there’s little any corporation can do to stop the spread of contenders working on an open-source technology, besides try to sew up the market. Indeed, when Honeywell bought Akuacom last summer, the San Rafael, Calif.-based company was the sole provider of OpenADR-enabled servers (DRASs) to translate utility signals into actual building controls. But since then, a handful of potential challengers have emerged with plans for server and client boxes of their own. (For more on OpenADR, check out my report at GigaOm Pro, “Report: An Open Source Smart Grid Primer” (subscription required).)

As for Alstom, Smart Grid News reports it has taken a newly aggressive stance in smart grid technologies, and is beginning to challenge Siemens, General Electric and ABB on hardware and systems integration work. Those three companies have yet to acquire anyone in the OpenADR space, to the best of my knowledge; I wonder which one will be next?

To learn more about smart grid software, come check out Green:Net on April 21 in San Francisco.

Image courtesy of Mbgrigby via Creative Commons license.

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