Many attempts to use dashboards to show energy consumption data and get consumers to conserve energy use have failed miserably. Will a startup’s idea of using a digital photo frame to broadcast the data make a difference?
While Nest is widely known as a consumer-focused smart thermostat maker, the startup has quietly been developing services it can offer in conjunction with utilities, which can curb customers’ energy use while also lowering their energy bills.
In the world of smart grid, there tends to be two kinds of networks — short range local area networks (LANs) that connect neighborhoods of smart meters together, and bigger-pipe “backhaul” wide-area networks (WANs) to carry that collected data back to the utility. But wait — there’s also a third kind of utility network, a super high-speed, low-latency one that connects the switches, capacitor banks and transformers of the grid (the big machines that push and pull power around the grid, keeping it from blowing up) often with fiber connections at major substations.
Smart meter wireless networking company Trilliant bought long-range wireless provider SkyPilot Networks last May with the goal of bringing all three kinds of networks in-house. On Tuesday, it announced its new bridge products that can link Trilliant’s low-power wireless LANs with its SkyPilot-based, high speed mesh and point-to-point WANs, at latencies low enough to run substation and distribution grid gear as well, according to Eric Miller, senior vice president of solutions. While Trilliant has only a few utility clients, including Canadian utility Milton Hydro, using both LAN and WAN networks right now, Miller said the company intends to go forward selling them as a package.
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National Grid, the second largest utility in the U.S., will be testing out smart grid technology based on WiMAX, a nascent wireless technology that provides high bandwidth. The move is the latest of a growing number of large utilities and communications companies investigating how WiMAX can play a role in their smart grid networks.
National Grid will be testing out WiMAX gear provided by Tel Aviv, Israel-based company Alvarion (s AVR), which can connect smart meters and distribution automation devices to the utilities’ back office. Alvarion told us back in May that the company was conducting several smart meter pilot projects and would be announcing its partners in the coming months.
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The UK’s National Grid (s NGG) says up to half of the country’s homes could be heated using biogas made from waste, using technology that until now has been primarily focused on electricity generation.
Most biogas production in the cleantech industry today is used to generate electricity via gas-powered turbines, but it’s not very efficient. In a new report, the National Grid says that currently about 1.4 billion cubic meters of biogas are produced in the UK and used to create electricity — at about 30 percent efficiency. If the biogas is injected into the existing gas pipelines, it could be used for heating at efficiency rates of more than 90 percent.
The Conservative Party in the UK may be trying to one-up Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the rival Labor Party with its latest cleantech proposal, which calls for the creation of a smart grid that would cover electricity, gas and water customers, potentially cutting energy use and reducing emissions. The proposal comes a day after the Department for Transport approved a third runway for Heathrow Airport — a plan that will put a cramp in carbon reduction plans in the country.
While the plan from the Conservatives is part political party maneuvering — who can be “greener” — it would likely be implemented a lot faster than similar proposals in the U.S., where a national smart grid will likely get bogged down in state and local regulatory hurdles.
A single company in the UK, the National Grid (s NGG), controls most of the electric and gas distribution in the region. Whereas in the U.S., getting approvals from all the various public utility commissions could result in a patchwork approach.
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