Today in Cleantech

It’s freaky Friday, so let’s talk about the idea that wireless smart meters cause brain tumors and massive headaches — if not in the heads of protesters and their elected representatives in California’s Marin County, then perhaps for the utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric. For years, a tiny but vocal group of people have claimed that radio frequencies (RF) from common wireless communications devices cause a host of health problems — and for years, groups like the Federal Communications Commission, the World Health Organization and other scientific studies have said it ain’t so. But that hasn’t stopped opponents from blockading smart meter installation trucks along California’s Highway 1, or pushing the Maine Public Utilities Commission to consider allowing some customers to opt out of having wireless smart meters installed at their homes. So far the protests haven’t really stopped meter installations, but given the other PR problems utilities are having with smart meters, it may be time for some good old-fashioned customer outreach. Or, as Pike Research analyst Peter Asmus notes, it may be an opportunity for powerline carrier-based smart meters from the likes of Echelon to step in as an alternative.

Smart Meter System On a Chip: The Pros and Cons

Smart meters, smart thermostats, smart appliances and other smart grid devices have lots and lots of chips in them. Putting all those functions together in one system-on-a-chip can save lots of money and time spent on integration — if they give device makers the right combo.

Today in Cleantech

Cisco, Silver Spring Networks and many others want to bring IP communications to the wireless smart grid, but what about the wired smart grid? Powerline communications — sending data over the same wires that carry electricity — is now accomplished through a welter of different proprietary technologies, and one of them will soon get more open. German engineering giant Siemens said last week it would open up its proprietary Distribution Line Carrier protocol for low-voltage powerline communications in January 2011, in hopes of allowing other vendors to interoperate with its metering technology known as AMIS. Other low-voltage powerline communications systems include those from smart grid and building controls vendor Echelon Corp. and the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. Still, none are as far along in end-to-end IP compatability for powerline communications as Cisco says it will be with the wireless technology it’s getting with its acquisition of Arch Rock.

Today in Cleantech

What’s up with the HomePlug Powerline Alliance‘s dream of connecting the smart grid through household wiring? The 70-member group is working to bring HomePlug — a powerline networking standard with some 215 devices certified and 50 million chips deployed — into interoperability with a host of smart grid networking technologies, including ZigBee and the IEEE 1901 powerline networking standard. On Tuesday, the alliance named three chipset vendors – Atheros Communications, Gigle Networks and SPiDCOM  — participating in an interoperability “plugfest” this week in Tours, France. HomePlug is mainly used in broadband, video and home automation systems, but its Green PHY is aimed at smart grid applications, and is being used to connect homes to smart meters in Australia and Germany.