Here’s a short update of the smart grid news flowing in from across the world this week, much of it involving new mashups of communications technologies, aimed at capturing the energy efficiency potential of everything from smart-metered cities to self-powered sensors.
Let’s start with Silver Spring Networks' (SSNI) unveiling of its project with Singapore Power. It’s the company’s first customer in Asia, and its first big customer announcement since its successful IPO earlier this month. While Singapore Power has been listed as a customer on Silver Spring’s SEC filings for some time, the two have remained tight-lipped about what they’re doing together.
Wednesday’s announcement opened the curtain on the project’s goals, which include an overarching Silver Spring network and smart meter deployment covering the island nation’s 2 million or so homes and businesses. Silver Spring will work with STEE-Infocomm, a division of Singapore Technologies, to implement the project.
Eric Dresselhuys, Silver Spring Networks' executive vice president, said in a Wednesday interview that Singapore Power also wants to do some initial pilots of utility retail choice programs over the AMI network. Singapore is in the process of opening its power markets to competitive retail providers, much like Texas, Australia, the U.K. and other deregulated regimes have done. Preparing itself for that shift was a significant business driver for Singapore Power’s decision to roll out Silver Spring’s network, on top of the typical labor savings and operational benefits, he said.
As for what it means for future deals in Asia, “This felt to us a little bit like the Asian equivalent of when we got our deal with FPL,” Dresselhuys said. He’s referring to the startup’s first big AMI project with Florida Power & Light (now FPL), which opened the door to other big contracts that have since given Silver Spring a lead in U.S. AMI networking market share as of last year.
While he wouldn’t say where or if the company is working in other Asian markets, Dresselhuys did note that Silver Spring is a partner in the Wi-SUN Alliance, a Japanese-led consortium including Itron, Cisco, Landis+Gyr and other partners up and down the industry supply chain, aimed at standardizing the 900-megahertz physical mesh communications that Silver Spring and others use for the majority of North American smart meter deployments today.
At the same time, Singapore Power is also using Silver Spring’s cellular communications capabilities, Dresselhuys said. The Redwood City, Calif.-based company has been integrating cellular into its platform since early 2012, joining a long list of smart meter vendors (Landis+Gyr, Elster, Itron, and SmartSynch) that have made cellular a core part of their future plans. Cellular is already used for “backhaul,” or transporting data collected from neighborhood-area meter networks back to the utility. But it’s also being used to connect individual meters, both for big commercial and industrial clients – and, for a few projects, for millions of household smart meters.
Getting back to mesh networking, big U.S. demand response provider EnerNOC (ENOC) announced an interesting twist on the technology Thursday morning, with news of its in-house wireless mesh technology to extend energy visibility deeper into buildings -- even to sensors that don’t need any grid power themselves.
Hugh Scandrett, EnerNOC vice president of engineering, said in Thursday’s release that its technology is about 75 percent cheaper than other commercially available products, and also includes network interference safeguards to deliver cleaner and more timely data. EnerNOC has also built in a long-lasting onboard power source that allows devices to run without on-site power, which dramatically expands their reach, he said.
EnerNOC didn’t specify just how its mesh technology was to make its way into individual devices, though it described how it might work to communicate data “from meters and other devices” up to the “Site Servers” it deploys at its big industrial and commercial customer buildings. From there, all that new data is pulled into EnerNOC network operations center, and from there to the company’s demand response, energy efficiency and power supply and risk management platforms.
EnerNOC is looking at applications in agriculture, commercial buildings, and other remote sensing and control industries. As for the technology’s pedigree, EnerNOC, which went public in 2007, has bought more than a dozen companies, including indoor wireless mesh provider SmallFoot in 2010. Thursday’s announcement didn’t cite the company specifically, but SmallFoot was working on low-power, ZigBee-based mesh networking when it was bought, which sounds similar to what EnerNOC is describing today.
Who else is building wireless mesh networks inside buildings? Right now, the chief contenders are in the smart lighting field, in the form of startups like Daintree Networks, Enlighted and Adura (bought by Acuity earlier this year). But if a fraction of the hype about the “internet of things” ever comes true, we’re bound to see countless competitors for technology to connect smart phones to home automation systems, office safety and security networks, on-street and off-street parking spots, EV charging stations, local electronics recycling stations, etc., etc., etc.
As for software to make sense of all this new data from all these new smart grid endpoints, smart metering giant Itron announced some new analytics features for its meter data management (MDM) platform on Thursday, including energy diversion (i.e., theft detection) and transformer load management capabilities.
It’s all part of the evolution of MDM systems from Itron, as well as competitors like Oracle, Aclara, eMeter (acquired by Siemens in 2011) and Ecologic Analytics (bought by Toshiba’s Landis+Gyr last year). All of these MDM players are adding analytics features to expand beyond their traditional role as billing engines, and to expand to include such functions as outage detection, voltage regulation, power quality data measurement, asset health data collection engine, and of course, customer connection. That’s a long list, and each MDM vendor is approaching different items on it at different speeds.