It seems like every big smart grid and building energy management vendor is rolling out its own version of equipment to support OpenADR, the technology emerging as a standard for automating the interplay of grid and utility commands with building energy controls. The list includes Honeywell and Akuacom, Alstom and UISOL, Schneider Electric and IPKeys, EnerNOC, Comverge, Cisco, Hitachi, Toshiba, and a long list of other OpenADR Alliance members.

But OpenADR comes in a lot of different flavors, including the clunky old 1.0 version, a more feature-rich 2.0a version, and most recently, OpenADR 2.0b. While plenty of vendors have certified technology running the 2.0a standard, far fewer have shown working software-hardware combos ready to run the full set of features that come with 2.0b.

On Wednesday, the OpenADR Alliance announced a list of vendors that have received OpenADR 2.0b certification, including EnerNOC, Honeywell, IPKeys, Fujitsu and AutoGrid. That's a long list of vendors with various pieces of hardware and software that can meet the standard's requirements for fast, automated energy controls.

But out of that list, there may be only one that can enable a whole range of OpenADR 2.0b functionality from both its own hardware and from the cloud. That's AutoGrid Systems, the Silicon Valley big-data smart grid startup, which announced Friday that its range of OpenADR 2.0b-technolgy is now available worldwide.

AutoGrid’s technology is available both as a standalone “virtual top node” (VTN) server (the device used by utilities, grid operators, demand response aggregators and others to send signals to end customers) and in a cloud-based “OpenDR Server 2.0” version. Both are supported by the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup’s Demand Response Optimization and Management System (DROMS), the software platform that’s being used by customers including Austin Energy, which is using OpenADR 2.0a for its new demand response program that launched earlier this month.

That makes AutoGrid the only hardware-vendor-neutral technology provider in the market today, CEO Amit Narayan said in a Monday interview. “Utilities want to deploy solutions that can work across multiple devices and use multiple channels,” he said. By making its OpenADR capabilities available to multiple hardware partners, as well as via the cloud, "We have the architecture that allows us to support that."

That’s an important consideration for a technology originally developed as an open-source effort, in partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the California Energy Commission to bring automated demand response capabilities to a wider market.

Ever since 2010, however, that open-source-based technology has been brought inside corporate walls. That’s when Honeywell bought the original Akuacom, the company that partnered with LBNL and CEC to build the first OpenADR server, and when Alstom bought UISOL, the software developer responsible for creating the OpenADR software code.

That doesn’t mean that AutoGrid, along with every other technology vendor in the OpenADR space, isn’t forming partnerships to integrate their separate systems into a working whole. On the building side of the equation, for example, Fujitsu’s OpenADR 2.0b “virtual end node” (VEN) product, which translates OpenADR signals into building energy commands, and AutoGrid’s VTN have demonstrated interoperability in recent tests, according to Friday’s announcement.  

AutoGrid is claiming another first in terms of multi-protocol capabilities, Narayan added. The company’s newly announced technology can also support Smart Energy Profile 2.0 (SEP 2.0), the standard being created to merge Wi-Fi, ZigBee and HomePlug powerline carrier technologies to connect and control home energy management devices and networks.

It’s also backward-compatible with OpenADR 1.0 -- something that OpenADR 2.0 technologies are supposed to be able to do, but which may be trickier to achieve in the real world than it is on paper. That’s important for markets like California, where OpenADR 1.0-based systems now control hundreds of megawatts of demand response, but where the state’s big utilities are also under regulatory mandate to switch to OpenADR 2.0 this year, while not condemning existing systems to obsolescence.

It could also be an advantage in markets that are just beginning to work on their own OpenADR-based demand response efforts, such as Japan. While Narayan wouldn’t give details on how it might be working with Fujitsu or other partners on that front, “because we’re 100 percent hardware-vendor-neutral, there are a number of players in Japan interested in developing OpenADR technologies that are talking to us,” he said.

Underlying all this cross-technology capability is the key concept of making it work to meet both utility and customer needs. On the automated demand-response front, OpenADR 2.0b includes some important new features, such as response times that measure in the seconds and “closed-loop” capabilities that allow buildings to confirm just how much energy use they’ve adjusted in response to grid signals. This should help make demand response more of a dispatchable asset, and less of a guessing game for utilities.

But beyond that, “If you’re running a full program, you have to be able to support not just OpenADR, but email, phone calls, text messages,” said Narayan. “You need to know which customers to call, what will happen if you give them a price signal or event, which customers are opting out or not opting out -- and as you do an event, you have to analyze what’s happening.”

“Just having the server is not necessarily the answer. You have to couple that server with some intelligence. We provide a comprehensive back-end,” built on a particular approach to managing masses of structured and unstructured data in real time, to perform those tasks, Narayan said.

No doubt all of its OpenADR competitors are striving for similar goals. For example, Honeywell is working on balancing renewable power with building automation and recently launched a line of OpenADR-compatible smart thermostats. As the technology rolls out in more and more real-world projects, we’ll have a chance to see how the various offers stack up.

An introduction to OpenADR from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: