The internet of things is a gaggle of devices and technologies, all trying to interact via an emerging set of common standards. OpenADR is one of those standards, and it could allow utilities and service providers to turn thermostats, air conditioners and heaters, lighting and home and office appliances into real-time grid energy players.
But getting OpenADR functionality into every device out there could take a long time -- and it depends on thousands of manufacturers making the decision to do so. Wouldn’t it be easier to create an IT platform that translates OpenADR signals into terms that these devices already understand, reaching as many as possible?
Last month, machine-to-machine systems provider Candi Controls and OpenADR technology provider IPKeys Technologies launched a partnership aimed at doing just this. In simple terms, the two are creating a cloud-based platform for turning a long list of “smart” devices into grid agents -- even if they were never built with energy management in mind.
“This changes the game for OpenADR,” Steve Raschke, CEO of Lafayette, Calif.-based Candi Controls, told me in an interview last week. “Now any devices can be OpenADR-addressable.” All that’s required is OpenADR systems expertise and a platform to manage lots of devices at their own level, he said.
The former task is managed by IPKeys’ virtual end node (VEN) software, which takes OpenADR signals from utilities or service providers and communicates it to the systems and devices at customer sites. Typically, this VEN capability is housed at individual customer sites, where it translates it into building management system commands, such as smart thermostat instructions.
But by embedding its VEN functionality into Candi’s cloud platform, IPKeys can make that set of centrally generated energy commands and prices available to virtually every device that Candi’s cloud can connect to, he said. That’s Candi’s specialty, as its full name (Cloud-Assisted Network-Device Integration) indicates.
Since its 2008 founding, the startup has been focused on “creating a new kind of translation layer at the edge between the hardware and the network,” aimed not at standardizing each device around a common set of standards and protocols, but rather at merging disparate devices using different technologies in a common framework.
“There are a lot of companies that are approaching the M2M or internet-of-things world with proprietary chipsets, and trying to force one standard or another,” he noted. There are good reasons to push for common hardware across a myriad of end devices, as it can lead to more scalable and more easily integrated M2M deployments. Startup Ayla Networks, which is embedding its software into chipsets for networked devices from companies like Broadcom and STMicroelectronics, provides one example of this approach.
Candi’s approach, on the other hand, takes the heterogeneous nature of today’s network-enabled device ecosystem as a given, and builds a platform that merges their discrepancies in a way that standardizes them to the needs of individual users.
So far, Candi has deployed about two dozen such clouds for customers, ranging from end users like Monterrey, Calif.’s water pollution control agency or San Diego Gas & Electric’s Green Button customer energy data platform, to smart grid and energy services providers like Capgemini, Alstom, AutoGrid and Verizon.
In the example of Verizon, Candi is one of several partners working with the telecommunications giant’s M2M Application Development Environment (MADE) program, which could extend to any device connected via a Verizon cellular modem, he said. Candi is also starting to work with solar power systems providers to link rooftop solar PV data into its mix of device data, he said.
In combination, these capabilities could lead to Candi being able to “push data up to the cloud, update a customer about a bill, read generation off the rooftop as well as consumption from the grid, or even precool a house,” he said -- a set of functions that describe a complex interplay of home and grid energy generation and consumption that could be orchestrated in response to a fairly simple OpenADR command.
Of course, this kind of thing requires a lot of fleshing out of different types of data from different devices, he noted. But with energy awareness being asked of an increasingly broad set of everyday devices, putting the core connectivity capabilities in the cloud, rather than in the devices, may be the way to go. Certainly there’s plenty of competition on the home automation front, with companies like GreenWave Reality, iControl, Alarm.com and MiOS merging multiple devices into common platforms.