Honeywell Goes Open Source, Grabs Akuacom


The smart grid shopping spree keeps going this week. Building automation giant Honeywell (s HON) said on Friday that it has bought demand response firm Akuacom, for an undisclosed price. The news comes days after Swiss electrical giant ABB said it plans to throw down more than $1 billion for smart grid software player Ventyx (The Smart Grid Acquisition Tally . . . So Far).

Honeywell’s purchase of Akuacom is particularly interesting because San Rafael, Calif.-based Akuacom’s technology is based on Open Automated Demand Response (OpenADR) — the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s open source system for automating the way utilities do demand response. Akuacom has developed servers that translate OpenADR signals into actions within building control systems in California, and also has a pilot project in Canada.

OpenADR is already being used to control some 70 megawatts of capacity for big industrial and commercial customers of California’s biggest utilities. Berkeley Lab is working to make the standard more user-friendly for utilities and is working with integration firm Utility Integration Solutions (UISOL) to develop an OpenADR package for utilities to build on.

Because OpenADR can run over a variety of physical communications, it’s adaptable to different uses. For example Sacramento utility SMUD has tested out converting OpenADR signals to travel over FM radio signals to smart thermostats that it has installed in customers’ homes, and PG&E (s PCG) is considering testing OpenADR over its smart meter network, although those plans remain in very early discussion stages.

But the open source standard has gotten less traction in both the residential market, and in states with less progressive energy regulations. Very few companies have actually been commercializing a version of the open source platform (like Akuacom’s) — a sign that utilities are very far from embracing open source for the smart grid like many companies in the computing and web worlds have done.

That’s where the connection with Honeywell could be so important. Honeywell is already using OpenADR in demand response projects with Southern California Edison and two Florida utilities, and is talking to India utilities about opportunities in that country. Acquiring Akuacom shows how important the open source standard will be to Honeywell going forward.

Honeywell — along with competitors Johnson Controls (s JCI), Siemens (s SI), Schneider Electric, and Echelon (s ELON) — are increasingly turning to partner with and purchase innovative smart grid startups to remain competitive and grab market share. While these building automation folks have been less aggressive in purchasing startups than some of their peers in the networking and demand response space, it looks like at least one of them just woke up the potential of acquiring technology innovation.

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