Silver Spring Networks: The Cisco of Smart Grid?

The idea of a “smart grid” involves a lot more players than its simple name suggests. That’s why Silver Spring Networks has launched its Technology Alliance Program, which includes an impressive partner list of big energy vets, tech giants and cleantech startups alike. Silver Spring’s open network based on Internet Protocol will support a host of smart grid applications from the Alliance partners.

Just as the Internet flourished under an open system, smart grid technologies need an open set of standards to develop. “The key underpinning the smart grid is an open standards system, and in our case using an IP network,” John O’Farrell, Executive Vice President of Silver Spring Networks, told us. “This allows for an almost infinite choice of devices and applications.”

Helping supply these choices are the vendor partners in the program which currently fall into five categories:

  • Advanced Metering: GE Energy, Itron, Landis+Gyr, Sensus
  • Demand/Energy Management: Comverge, EnerNOC
  • Home Area Networks and Devices: Arch Rock, Carrier, Control4, Energate, Greenbox Technologies, Invensys, Radio Thermostat Company of America, Tendril
  • Networking: Cisco, Digi International
  • Software: eMeter, GridPoint, Itron, Oracle, OSIsoft

The idea is that, while Silver Spring will be the network vendor for a utility, technology partners will provide specific services or devices that work on Silver Spring’s network. “Rather than picking one solution and saying ‘take it or leave it,’ we’re all about choice,” O’Farrell explained.

This business model allows Silver Spring to leverage the best technology from a variety of third party vendors who often have multi-million R&D facilities or millions in venture capital. Updated: One potential project O’Farrell mentioned was a “smart city” one. Silver Spring is a Cisco technology developer partner and has been in talks with the networking giant about integrating Cisco municipal Wi-Fi deployment with Silver Spring’s smart grid infrastructure.

“We see a world where every significant energy consuming device will have an IP address – your refrigerator, your pool pump, your plug-in hybrid will definitely have an IP address,” O’Farrell said, confirming that Silver Spring has been talking to plug-in hybrid makers but he declined to name any companies.

Silver Spring is not alone in offering smart grid solutions to utilities. Integrated solution providers like Accenture and IBM can offer utilities a top-to-bottom solution. IBM Global Energy recently partnered with Australian utility Country Energy to deploy Big Blue’s Intelligent Utility Network, a similar open-standards network of communicative grid-attached devices.

The relationship utilities and their customers is rapidly changing. Between distributed generation, distributed storage, plug-in hybrids, smart metering, pre-paid options and demand response, utilities desperately need to make their grids not only smarter but nimbler too. An open network that allows third parties to develop devices or services will surely be a boon for cleantech startups.

Graphic courtesy of Silver Spring Networks.