Summary:

California’s groundbreaking set of rules on utility customer energy data are facing comment from the smart grid industry this week, and there’s still plenty of confusion over the fine print. In short, CPUC’s rules will need to change to avoid stifling the smart grid-home energy marketplace.

SmartMeter_installation

California’s groundbreaking attempt to protect, and also open up, energy data has come under further scrutiny this week. The first deadline for interested parties to comment on the state’s new proposed rules comes this week, and there seems to be a lot of worry that the rules could nip the state’s potential home energy management market in the bud. At the same time there’s also still plenty of confusion over the fine print.

While we’ve looked into many of the questions that last month’s proposed ruling from the California Public Utility Commission has raised, in my weekly update at GigaOm Pro (subscription required), I lay out some of the key points of contention suggested in the recent comments from smart grid industry players.

Chief among them is the fear that some of the CPUC’s definitions lack clarity, and that this vagueness could cause uncertainty and a delay in rolling out products and services to link homeowners and business owners to their energy use. The CPUC’s definition of “locked” versus un-“locked” home energy management devices is particularly troubling for the commenters. In fact, the the Consumer Electronics Association believes the distinction “threatens to dictate technology standards through regulatory favoritism.”

Other disagreements include a dispute over standards for connecting smart meters to in-home devices using wireless technology. The CPUC’s rules demand that California’s big three utilities make plans for piloting such meter-to-home connections within six months, but the rules don’t address how they’re supposed to do it.

The question around standards, in turn, brings up the question of whether it’s better to use the existing ZigBee standard, or wait for the next-generation of the ZigBee standard, which will be compliant with Internet protocol and able to be used via Wi-Fi and HomePlug devices as well as ZigBee. Pacific Gas & Electric wants to wait for the next-gen ZigBee standard to be developed, but that could take more than a year, given the current struggles over the standard.

The Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition trade group, on the other hand, wants the CPUC to demand that it happens now. That’s not surprising, perhaps, given that its members include companies like Comverge, Tendril, Control4 and others using the first generation of the ZigBee standard in deployments today, not to mention the ZigBee Alliance itself.

Finally, amid all these confusions, it may seem that defining just who a utility “customer” is should be pretty simple, but that’s not always the case. For example, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed out in their comments that the CPUC’s rules could leave residential and commercial tenants in an unclear position. Tenants might not be paying the bills and also might not be due the same protections and disclosures when it comes to their energy usage data.

Image courtesy of Portland General Electric via Creative Commons license

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