10 Smart Grid Trends from Distributech

The annual smart grid event Distributech kicked off in San Diego Tuesday morning and — as expected — unleashed a whole series of news from smart grid-focused firms. From new home energy management products to plug-in car software to distribution automation gear, this is a list of trends and news from the show. That said, we’ll definitely be bringing you a lot more reporting and analysis from the event this week.

Here are 10 trend and news bits out of Distributech this morning:

1. Managing Electric Cars Like a Swarm of Bees. Regen Energy is a Toronto-based company that makes wireless networking devices and “swarm logic””software based on the idea that each individual node makes a decision based on the actions of the group. It’s one of the more interesting ideas out there for the smart grid, and basically, the company is asking if software that acts like a swarm of bees, or a school of fish or a flock of birds, will be the answer to collectively managing energy systems from electric cars to HVAC systems. At DistribuTECH this week, Regen Energy announced that the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power is looking at their so-called EnviroGrid product for its DOE-funded Smart Grid EV integration project. I wrote about their move into EVs a year ago, but now they have a utility willing to publicly try it out.

2. Home Energy Market to Ramp Up. Analysts are still bullish on home energy networking and making some big predictions for it. GTM Research predicts the market for home area networks and home energy management will grow almost 90 percent between 2011 and 2015, resulting in a $750 million market by 2015. That growth will be due to many utilities installing this type of gear as part of their smart grid strategies and using backing from the DOE’s smart grid stimulus program. Pike Research has predicted that by 2015, 28 million homeowners around the world will be using some kind of high-tech tool to manage their energy use. Startup EnergyHub released the next-generation version of its smart energy home device at the show.

3. Moving From Security to Energy. The telcos are interested in offering a combined home energy and security product, as are startups like Control4. And here’s another one: A company called APX Alarms is revamping as Vivint and launching products that combine door locks, video security and lighting and appliance control. If APX is just getting into this, they’re slightly behind. 4Home, which has a similar product, was bought by Motorola (s mmi) last year, while Xanboo, which also has a similar product, was also acquired by AT&T (s T) last year. Control4 announced utility customer NV Energy earlier this week. Vivint is working around the wireless protocol Z-Wave, which is proprietary and is being used by Verizon (s vz) for its trial.

4. A Behavior Change. Startups like OPower and Efficiency 2.0 have long built their services around behavioral science; the idea is to research how people behave and target energy-efficiency recommendations that actually work to customers. Picture the kind of work that Netflix (s nflx) or Amazon (s AMZN) do to convince their users to click. This morning, energy management player Tendril announced a set of web services called Energize that will also use behavioral science to offer energy-efficiency recommendations. The product is the result of the acquisition of Grounded Power, which Tendril made in October. Tendril also announced a partnership with Whirlpool (s whr) yesterday.

5. Partners Make the Smart Grid World Go Round. The smart grid is a network and one company can’t hope to control the entire end-to-end pipe. That’s why a lot of announcements from the show are on partnerships, coalitions and distribution deals. Networking company Silver Spring Networks sent out an announcement this morning about its 40-partner network for its Smart Energy Platform product. The partner platform also now includes services deeper into the grid, like voltage optimization and reduction. Unless you actually work at a utility, you probably don’t care about voltage servicing, but given utilities are Silver Spring’s customers, they try to give ’em what they want.

6. Clean Power and the Smart Grid. One of the trends I’ve been getting more interested in is how to leverage the smart grid to help add in more renewable power. This morning, demand response giant EnerNOC (s ENOC) announced a deal with Bonneville Power Administration to use EnerNOC’s demand response to help make the addition of wind power to the grid a lot more stable. If the smart grid manages — and electric vehicles are charged — with coal-fired power, it partly defeats the purpose of the investments. The companies called the project “a first of its kind.”

7. Don’t Forget About Grid Health. While many companies are focusing on where the grid meets the consumer, utilities will likely spend a lot more money on deeper (critical, as they call it) grid services. Chicago-based S&C Electric announced the next generation of its distribution automation and grid self-healing devices.

8. Smart Grid Cities for All. I’m always a little wary of city-specific collaborations given Boulder’s Smart Grid City was such a disaster. But this week, San Diego (yes, the city that hosts Distributech) is launching the Smart Grid San Diego project, which will combine initiatives from the city, utility San Diego Gas & Electric, GE (s ge), UC San Diego and CleanTECH San Diego. The projects seek to deploy smart EV charging, connect clean energy and EVs, create green jobs in San Diego, and study the behavior of San Diegans around energy and EVs.

9. Demand Response Players Expand. Demand response companies have been increasingly looking to offer additional services and expand their brands beyond demand response. The latest is Comverge, which announced a series of news at the show, branching out to offer connections with vehicle service OnStar, and connected thermostats. EnerNOC has also been really aggressive about breaking the demand response mold, including racking up a series of acquisitions and new products.

10. ZigBee or Z-Wave for the Home. While covering standards battles can get tiring, I’ve been watching the one brewing between ZigBee and Z-Wave in the smart energy home. The ZigBee Alliance says this morning that there are 100 certified ZigBee home energy products from 49 companies. But at the same time, Vivint announced this morning that it is going with Z-Wave and so has the first telco home energy trial in the U.S. via Verizon. ZigBee is an open standard, while Z-Wave is proprietary, yet Z-Wave has been available a lot longer (or that’s the reason Verizon gave me for using it). What to pick?

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Image courtesy of Vladeb.