The smart grid trade show GridWeek is now wrapping up in Washington D.C., but the hard work of integrating all the hardware and software on display at the event has just begun. Here are a few of the top stories from GridWeek — a sampling of announcements and deals from this week that offer a glimpse of how smart grid leaders will link up smart meters, demand response programs, public and private communications networks and electric vehicle charging stations in the years to come.
Demand Response Spreads its Wings. Demand response provider Comverge got the ball rolling Monday with news of a rebranding — the company now offers “Intelligent Energy Management.” This new emphasis on services that go beyond turning down thermostats and factory lines comes as part of a growing trend in the demand response industry, with rivals like EnerNOC and Constellation Energy (via acquisition of CPower) all seeking to bring broader energy management services to their DR customers.
At the same time, demand response is moving into homes through smart meters — including smart meter networking startup Silver Spring Networks. On Tuesday, the rumored IPO candidate launched “UtilityIQ Demand Response Manager 1.0,” part of its suite of software for utilities to go along with the networking technology that Silver Spring now has in smart meter deployments across the country.
Not to be outdone, home energy management startup Tendril said it will integrate with Lockheed Martin’s SEEload demand response platform. The defense contractor has been getting into smart grid in a serious way, with a particular eye on enterprise-wide integration. Its SEEload platform is similar to Cooper Industries’ Yukon demand response platform now in use by more than 200 utilities. As for integrating different utility DR systems at a higher level, startup UISOL’s DRBizNet platform is being used by grid operators PJM, California ISO and Midwest ISO.
Deep Dives into Consumer, Weather Data. Tendril also took in a $23 million Series D round on Tuesday, and acquired tiny startup GroundedPower — a maker of a behavior-based energy efficiency program that could be tied into Tendril’s web-based consumer energy management platform. Startups like OPower and Efficiency 2.0 have been taking similar tacks, analyzing loads of data to offer targeted energy-saving tips. The idea is to leverage psychology as much as technology in the effort to change consumer behavior. As IBM CEO Sam Palmisano put it at the more policy-oriented GridWise Forum last month, the smart grid can’t succeed until everyday consumers can be engaged in saving energy.
What about the weather? AWS Convergence Technologies launched some smart-grid specific applications for WeatherBug, its weather tracking and data-crunching service. Of course, the utility industry is already heavy into weather — but whether it can translate reams of data into smarter, or even automated, energy saving systems remains to be seen (see New Opportunities in the Smart Grid on GigaOM Pro, subscription required).
The Public vs. Private Network Debate, Redux. GridWeek also saw a renewed pitch from public wireless carriers to use them, rather than utility-owned private networks, for more smart grid needs. SmartSynch, a startup that’s championing a cellular smart grid, pulled together a host of public carriers — T-Mobile, AT&T, Rogers Wireless, Qualcomm, Verizon and Sprint — to tout the industry’s growing cost-competitiveness against build-it-yourself smart grid networks from the likes of Silver Spring, Trilliant and others.
It’s true that most utilities use cellular networks for “backhaul” to connect utilities to neighborhood-level smart meter networks. Working against cellular’s advantages, however, are the regulatory frameworks that allow utilities to claim guaranteed rates of return from capital expenditures (i.e. from networks they install and own). That’s a powerful reason to buy rather than rent.
Most utilities have opted for private networks for smart meters, as seen in the recent round of projects receiving part of $3.4 billion in smart grid stimulus grants. As that money dries up, however, cellular carriers may find more room to compete, especially if they can keep lowering prices.
Giants Keep Marching Into EV Charging. Plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles are going to be a serious headache for utilities, and they’re looking to manage the influx of demand by integrating car charging into the smart grid. German power engineering giant Siemens was the latest to throw its hat in the ring at GridWeek, announcing its line of new smart grid-enabled EV charging systems and a partnership with enterprise software giant SAP to put it all together in a way utilities can manage.
In a project expected to launch within two months, initially simulating 10-50 electric vehicles, SAP and Siemens plan to demonstrate technology that can track an EV owner or operator’s electricity consumption across various charging stations, state lines and utility territories, and manage payment, SAP’s vice president of Industry Business Solutions Henry Bailey told us in an interview. Siemens also has a reseller deal with car charging startup Coulomb Technologies. Think of it all part of the increasing consolidation and commodification of the car-charging world.
For more research on demand response and the smart grid check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):
- Demand Response as the Back Door Smart Grid?
- Moving Into Substation Networking, Cisco Seizes Smart Grid’s Low-Hanging Fruit
- Smart algorithms, the future of the energy industry
- New Opportunities in the Smart Grid
Image courtesy of Cisco.