The development of the smart grid is really about unleashing and managing a whole lot of data about energy — where, when, how and how much energy is produced, consumed and moved around the network. That data could come from deep within the power grid at sensor points called phasor measurement units (PMU), or could be collected at the edge of the network via a connected, smart appliance or dashboard, or at power generation facilities such as solar or wind farms.
While much of this kind of data (at least the limited amount that has been available from the unsophisticated power grid) has traditionally been housed in utility back offices, entrepreneurs and developers that helped build the Internet are increasingly leading the way on opening up access to what will be an explosion of energy information coming from the smart grid. By leveraging open APIs, and mirroring the creation of the web and computing, entrepreneurs and companies can create a flourishing ecosystem around energy information that can deliver innovative and game-changing energy applications.
The news that Google’s energy information web tool PowerMeter signed up its first device partner this week is the most recent example of how this energy information ecosystem is starting to develop. Google has long pledged to open up its API for PowerMeter, which will enable third party developers to make innovative applications based around the information. Energy Inc has also released its API for its PowerMeter compatible device the TED-5000, and as Google’s Tom Sly put it in an email to me, “Energy Inc deserves major kudos for making this API available to customers. The API will allow people to write Android (and iPhone) apps and a variety of other software to make the TED 5000 even more useful!”
In addition to having an open API, the TED-5000 was built around the open wireless standard Zigbee, which is fast becoming the defacto standard for home energy monitoring and can lower the cost of development and innovation compared to a proprietary wireless technology. As Freaklabs, an open-source zigbee blog, put it:
The exciting thing for me is that the first gadget partner is the TED 5000 (The Energy Detective) which runs a Zigbee stack. . . [T]he potential is there for a lot of new monitoring devices to start coming out and there’s a good chance that a lot of them will also be using Zigbee.. . . Nothing better than having an open hardware energy monitor running an open source Zigbee stack and sending the usage data to Google Powermeter.
Other energy dashboard makers like Tendril are also offering open APIs that will enable third-party developers to make innovative applications based around energy data. At the AlwaysOn Going Green conference in mid September Tendril CEO Adrian Tuck briefly discussed a computer game that was being built around Tendril’s API that will use a character whose powers will be based on how much energy the players saves in his/her daily life. An early stage startup with a similar idea launched its business plan at our Green:Net 2009 conference.
Of course, these are very early days for energy information. Utilities have just started working on smart grid deployments and big information technology players like Cisco have just begun moving into the utility space. And issues of privacy and security — like they are in the Internet world — will be front and center as the era of open energy information develops. But as Google’s Sly put it in reference to its new gadget partner: “Let’s hope that other device manufacturers and utilities are as forward-thinking when it comes to making it easy for customers to access their energy use information.”
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