Open Source Smart Grid Goes to China, Courtesy of Honeywell

An open source standard to help utilities automate demand response is splashing down in the potentially huge smart grid market of China, courtesy of Honeywell (s HON). The building controls giant said Monday it will work with State Grid Corp. of China in a pilot project using so-called OpenADR, partly as a way to see if the open source spec will be a good fit for enabling more demand response projects around the country.

Honeywell plans to install automated demand response networks using OpenADR servers from Akuacom, which it bought last year, to send signals from State Grid’s computing centers to control energy usage in buildings via Honeywell’s Tridium building management system interface, Paul Orzeske, president of Honeywell Building Solutions, told us in an interview on Monday.

The project with SGCC’s State Grid Electric Power Research Institute envisions linking hundreds of buildings, at first using broadband connections but later using smart meters, in four yet to be announced Chinese cities, Orzeske said. While it’s too early to say whether it will lead to commercial deployments, Honeywell would like to see the project grow from hundreds to thousands of buildings over time.

China is planning a massive countrywide smart grid buildout that dwarfs similar plans in the U.S. and Europe. But to date, China’s demand response market resembles the U.S. market of a decade or more ago, with scattered projects built in a one-off fashion that makes them hard to integrate into standards-based smart grid systems.

Honeywell has been working on linking its building controls expertise with smart grid systems including OpenADR for some time. It has OpenADR projects underway with Southern California Edison, in Tallahassee, Fla. and with dozens of other unnamed utilities around the world, Orzeske said.  But with the China project, “We’re leapfrogging the slow evolution of demand response in the U.S. over the last 8 to 10 years,” he told me.

“One of the reasons they selected us is because of our encouraging the open standard,” he added. OpenADR, a Berkeley Labs and California Energy Commission-sponsored protocol, is being considered as a U.S. federal smart grid standard as well.

Of course, there’s a long way to go yet — the project announced Monday is still a pilot. Indeed, part of its purpose is to figure out the best ways for China to organize its demand response markets in a way that will serve both economic and environmental goals, Orzeske said.

It will be interesting to see how OpenADR might fit into China’s demand response plans, as well as China’s five-year goal to reduce energy use by 0.3 percent per year through efficiency gains. With the market in its infancy, new technologies and new business models for delivering both peak load reduction and broader energy efficiency gains.

OpenADR makes up only a tiny fraction of the demand response in the United States today, but as one of a handful of technologies being considered as a potential federal standard, it has scores of companies building systems meant to interoperate with it.

Honeywell’s purchase of Akuacom has put it in the lead in deployable OpenADR systems for now, but a number of other companies are working on similar servers and client relay boxes to translate the Berkeley Labs-developed standard for a variety of building and load control systems.

Demand response companies have also been buying their way into OpenADR markets. In December, U.S. demand response leader EnerNOC bought Global Energy Partners, which is working on OpenADR-enabled projects in California

Honeywell already has a big building automation presence in China, as well as a footprint in building energy efficiency contracting and services. It’s far from the only player in that market — rival Johnson Controls (s JCI) provides energy efficiency services in China, and Duke Energy is working with Chinese partners on a wide array of green energy projects, including

Building energy efficiency is also a big focus in the U.S. Chinese green technology partnerships, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu has made it clear he thinks open standards-based technologies — and eventually, even open source technologies — should take the lead in such Pan-Pacific partnerships.

But as in the U.S., the smart grid and smart buildings standards landscape in China is still quite open. While domestic companies are sure to get their share of technologies adopted for China’s smart grid plans, there’s still room for giants like Honeywell or General Electric (s GE), which is working with SGCC to develop Chinese smart grid standards, to put their favorite technologies into the mix.

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Image courtesy of The Pocket via Creative Commons license.