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Intel, Grid Net Launch Assault on Home Energy

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Intel (s INTC) has made no secret of its ambition for a fat slice of the home energy management market, but here’s the chip maker’s official play: On Thursday, the company released a hardware design blueprint for any manufacturer or retailer that wants to build and sell home energy monitoring devices.

Intel plans to make this reference design – which lays out the hardware specs and related software – available in the first quarter of 2011, said Doug Davis, an Intel vice president, during his keynote at the West Coast Green conference in San Francisco, Calif. Davis showed off a prototype of the device on a stage and showed how it could display information about energy use of each home appliance and recommendations for consumers to conserve electricity use.

Front and center of the dashboard is the Atom processor that Intel has designed mainly for mobile gadgets, such as cell phones, tablets and ultra-thin laptops.

Ray Bell, CEO of smart grid startup Grid Net, also joined Davis on stage to announce that Australian utility Energy Australia will be deploying one of the first applications home energy monitoring device and sensors with Intel’s chips and Grid Net’s software inside. Energy Australia won a $100 million grant from the Australian government to carry out the Smart Grid Smart City demonstration project.

San Francisco-based Grid Net, which counts Intel as an investor, has developed an operating system and other software to run a network of smart grid equipment. But the startup is clearly eager to move beyond the network to the edge and inside the home. Similarly, Silver Spring Networks acquired home energy management startup Greenbox last year, Cisco launched a home energy management product earlier this year, and software meter makers like eMeter are also trying to move onto the home screen.

Grid Net and Intel are part of a consortium involved in the Australian Smart Grid Smart City project; other participants include IBM (s IBM), General Electric (s GE) and Better Place. Australia is a hot smart grid market because of the governments investment in a national broadband project, which includes smart grid services. Silver Spring is also working with Australian electricity distribution provider CitiPower & Powercor Australia.

Bell declined to provide specifics about the deployment plan for the home energy monitoring portion of the project, but said more details will be announced by the end of October. By then, Bell says he plans to announce another customer who will buy home energy monitoring dashboards and sensors from Grid Net. Grid Net will hire a manufacturer in Taiwan to make the equipment. Grid Net has been working with Intel on designing the equipment over the past year, Bell said.

Intel is bringing its MeeGo software and chip expertise to develop a dashboard that will come with wifi, zigbee and an option to plug in a 3G or 4G cellular connection card, Bell said. The design makes the dashboard not just a display but a communication device to talk with smart phones and tablets, making it an attractive offering from not just utilities or electronics and appliance retailers but also wireless and cable service providers, he added. The dashboard will have a retail price that is under $300, Bell said.

The design also is part of the reference design that Intel plans to make available to other companies that want to check out dashboards with Intel’s Atom chip inside. Intel had previously showed off some of its ideas for measuring home energy consumption before creating the reference design that can help to speed up the engineering and manufacturing of the dashboards.

The big question is, of course, whether Intel’s design will win over other customers, and the company won’t know until it makes its blueprint available early next year. In the mean time, other hardware manufacturers are stepping up efforts to peddle hardware and services for measuring home energy consumption. Belkin announced on Thursday wireless equipment for connecting with a smart meter on one end and a home Internet router at the other end. The wireless gateway is part of its Conserve line of products, and it can send energy use data to utilities, which in return can deliver electricity pricing and conservation tips to a Conserve website that consumers can access.

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