Tendril and Itron Make Smart Meters That Talk to the HAN

UPDATED At the Itron Users’ Conference in Dallas on Tuesday, Tendril and Itron announced a networking solution that will enable two-way communication between utilities and residential customers’ energy-using devices using the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) that utilities are working to install. By integrating Tendril’s Residential Energy Ecosystem energy management system with Itron’s OpenWay networking solution, the companies are able to give utilities an end-to-end solution for smart energy management.

Update: According to the current issue of EnergyBiz magazine, a trade publication for the utility industry, up to 50 million advanced meters could be in the pipeline by 2010 (that’s planned, not deployed). But advanced meters focus on two-way communication between the meter and the utility, rather than the utility and your in-home home devices. We’ve asked Itron and Tendril to let us know how many of the advance meters set to roll out are likely to benefit from their engineering collaboration, and we’ll update when they get back to us. Currently, Itron has four announced AMI deals totaling 14 million meters: Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, Detroit Edison and CenterPoint Energy in Houston. The vast majority of those will be installed in the field by the end of 2013, and Itron says it is on schedule to install more than 3 million meters next year.

The collaboration between Itron and Tendril helps push that dialogue further into homes equipped with such OpenWay meters, without the need for ubiquitous broadband. According to the release, the home area network (HAN) enabled by the Tendril/Itron integration uses the ZigBee Smart Energy wireless network to connect Tendril’s displays, smart thermostats and load control switches (which allow users and utilities to turn devices like pool motors, lighting and water heaters on and off remotely) to the smart meter.

By trading an in-home broadband connection for the existing AMI infrastructure that utilities are familiar with, the Tendril/Itron solution can help ease some of the backhaul challenges that in-home energy-monitoring systems have faced from utilities. As we described at length in our Smart Energy Home briefing, utilities have wrestled with how to transmit information between generation assets and devices, in part because the communication system needs to be reliable, ubiquitous and standardized.

Market penetration of cable, broadband, cellular and radio networks vary in urban, rural and suburban markets, and most utilities have balked at the idea that smart energy will be delivered by leveraging a hodgepodge of existing backhaul networks. Extending the reach of the existing AMI network into the home could help speed adoption of smart energy solutions for the home by allowing utilities to easily extend demand response and variable pricing programs to their residential customers.

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