Smart energy has generated a lot of buzz in recent years, but putting all the necessary pieces in place to make it happen is no small task. To move smart energy forward, various governmental and industry groups are formulating standards and forging alliances around interoperability.
A key areas of focus on that front is SEP2, a standard profile for smart energy management in home devices that works with various IP-based technologies. The HomeGrid Forum, The HomePlug (News - Alert) Alliance, the Wi-Fi Alliance, and the ZigBee Alliance in August created a consortium for SEP2 interoperability.
INTERNET TELEPHONY recently interviewed John Egan, vice president of the HomeGrid Forum, about all of the above.
Tell us about the SEP2 interoperability effort announced in August.
Egan: One of the goals is to develop a common set of testing plans and criteria so that uniformity and interoperability are maintained. As many times the transceiver technologies transport IP messages transparently, there may be little needed by way of modifying the standards they work under. However, as HomeGrid is focused on the smart grid as an ecosystem enabled by G.hn, we look above the G.hn transceivers and consider what will help the market and foster innovation and interoperation in the grid using G.hn-based systems, so we may come out with guidelines for HomeGrid members to assist them in ensuring SEP2 compliance at the system level.
When will interoperability/certification testing commence?
Egan: This has not been determined yet. We [planned to] have a conference call [in late August] to begin working together, laying out ground rules and goals, as well as defining how other alliances can join the consortium, as we wish to be fully open to all that support the transport of IP for the smart grid.
The smart grid has been slow to take off in the U.S. Why, and what else is being done to move it forward?
Egan: There are many opinions on this. The rush to get government funding did provide a substantial boost, but then reality set in and many utilities and their suppliers realized that a lot of infrastructure work in back office systems, distribution automation, and AMI communications were required. The early deployments highlighted the lack of interoperability and the immaturity of some concepts, with refurbishments needed. This is not a typical utility activity, to install a meter and then have to go back after a relatively short period and either replace it or upgrade it. [Neither] their pricing structures nor their manpower projections take this into account. Once some found they had to take steps to go back to recently installed meters, they decided to slow down their processes in this regard to allow the technology time to catch up to the evolving requirements.
Further, some technologies that have great value in the smart grid are only now coming on line, such as G.hn. With G.hn able to support smart grid activity in the home, between EV and charger, from AMI meter to head end and for distribution automation, the wait is well worth it. On top of G.hn's powerline mode handling all this, G.hn extends the ability of SG messaging to other wired mediums as well, such as twisted pair, telephone lines, and coax cable. This truly extends the options for providing a ubiquitous smart grid presence in the home, office, or utility distribution plant.
You mentioned that the basic business model for utilities is also an issue here. Explain.
Egan: To have government approach a utility that has its rate calculations, and so its profit, dictated by its capital expenditures and its rate base, and instruct them to begin planning for lower consumption and no new construction, this is contrary to the profit focus for the utility. Therefore, new rules need to be considered in this area so that utilities are focused on providing low-cost energy with as little carbon footprint and minimal capital expenditures over time. We can understand that utilities may move slowly, as replacing meters is expensive and they may be using these new meters to reduce their income, and so the meter expense itself may not be covered much less ongoing operational expenses.
Where does smart grid have the most potential benefit?
Egan: Many in the industry did the number crunching and have come to realize that commercial and industrial power consumption is where the biggest savings could result as this sector consumes far more energy than residential. Once again, G.hn is being looked at as a means to provide smart grid-enabled building automation links to boost the possibilities in this sector.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi