GE is launching more gadgets to help consumers monitor and manage their home-energy consumption.
The 2012 CES show hasn’t even officially kicked off and already the smart energy home has emerged as a key target for a variety of sectors, including telcos, big box retailers, startups, chip companies and now cable operators like Time Warner Cable.
What will be the wireless standard that acts as the glue between devices — from connected light bulbs, to wireless thermostats to connected appliances — in the connected smart energy home? One dark horse that has made some headway in recent weeks is a low power wireless standard called 6LoWPAN, which uses a wireless mesh network architecture (wireless nodes that connect with their peers instead of a central device) and is also based on IPv6, an Internet numbering system that has an almost infinite amount of IP addresses and is commonly being used to wirelessly connect the “Internet of things.”
All this jargon means that as consumer electronics companies and Internet firms look to develop wireless products for the smart energy home, 6LoWPAN — and its more Internet-friendly characteristics — is gaining some headway. Here’s some examples: Last week, chip maker NXP Semiconductors unveiled its GreenChip package that can wirelessly connect lightbulbs and is based on 6LoWPAN. Cisco, meanwhile, showed it affinity for 6LoWPAN by buying up wireless network company Arch Rock last year, and Cisco plans to use the wireless technology for both smart meter neighborhood-area networks and low-power local wireless networks.
In fact I could also envision these companies’ moves into 6LoWPAN — from one of the world’s largest Internet infrastructure players and from a hefty chip company — as somehow becoming integrated together, which would give 6LoWPAN even more clout in the wireless smart energy home.
Cisco, NXP & The Smart Energy Home?
NXP’s initial partners for its GreenChip push are lighting maker TCP, and home energy management startup Greenwave Reality. The latter was founded by Greg Memo and Martin Manniche, who were formerly the general manager and CTO of Cisco’s Consumer Business Organization (formerly Linksys), respectively. I talked with them back in February about their approach to the home energy management market, and while they weren’t explicit, both hinted at the potential for a partnership with Cisco down the road.
Cisco has announced interest in home energy management via its partnership with home energy startup Control4. It also has far broader plans to network the smart grid from smart meters to utilities, but it hasn’t really stated its preferred method to link homes and grid networks together.
But last year, Cisco bought Arch Rock, a San Francisco-based startup with an IP-compliant smart meter networking standard called PhyNet that’s based on 6LoWPAN. The basic plan for Cisco’s neighborhood wireless smart grid was revealed then: to create an end-to-end IP-based smart meter networking architecture with radios that can replace the mish-mash of systems now used to connect smart meters in neighborhood area networks to the utility.
Big smart meter maker Itron, in turn, has a partnership with Cisco to work on end-to-end IP networking, and Cisco has said that Itron’s OpenWay system can be remotely upgraded to support a Cisco-Arch Rock system. So the question to me is, could a Cisco-Arch Rock-Itron smart meter network link up with an NXP-Greenwave Reality home lighting network, all using the same 6LowPAN technology?
Using 6LoWPAN to connect smart meters to utilities and homes to smart meters could be a very useful feature in the smart meter space. Almost every smart meter today that’s made to also connect to in-home devices uses two separate radios for those tasks. The higher-power meter-to-meter connections tend to be done via proprietary 900-megahertz radios from Silver Spring Networks, Itron and fellow meter makers Landis+Gyr and Elster. The lower-power, meter-to-home connections tend to rely on ZigBee, a utility-favored networking technology that leads in installs in most North American smart meters and is built to communicate with home area networks of the future.
6LoWPAN Over ZigBee?
But not everyone thinks ZigBee will be robust enough to work for meter-to-home networks across the wide range of home environments. ZigBee’s current technology isn’t IP-compliant, and while ZigBee is working with Wi-Fi and HomePlug on the IP-compliant, next-generation of the ZigBee standard, that process is going slowly. What’s more, many smart meters built to manage current ZigBee technology may be unable to serve the more robust memory requirements of the upcoming next-gen ZigBee standard. On the other hand, 6LoWPAN is already an IP-based network.
Last time I talked to Cisco about its Arch Rock plans, its networking technology was progressing along two separate tracks. The work to link smart meters in higher-power, neighborhood area networks was going on under the auspices of IEEE’s 802.15 Smart Utility Networks (SUN) Task Group 4G. A different standards effort called 802.15.4e was aimed at creating low-power networking that could keep meters networked during power outages — or, perhaps, link smart meters to home area networks.
Cisco hasn’t said much about its Arch Rock plans since it bought the startup in September, and many are wondering whether Cisco’s new corporate focus leaves much room for development on smart grid at all. Still, I’m curious to hear your thoughts — feel free to let me know if you think I’m on the right track.
Question of the week
When you’re a networking giant, it’s probably a good idea to develop a strategy for participating in the biggest network build-out of the decade. This morning, Cisco is doing just that, with an announcement of its game plan for becoming a major player in the smart grid, with technology for everything from the utility data center to energy management for the light switches in your home and the VoIP phones in your office.
Cisco estimates that the smart grid communications market represents a $20 billion a year opportunity as the systems are built out over the next five years, and the company is angling to seize a substantial portion of that value. For now, Cisco’s smart grid plan lacks a lot of specific detail, but it demonstrates that the company is making aggressive movement into the space — and signals to some startups that there’s a powerful new competitor (or partner) on the scene. One company in particular should be concerned: Silver Spring Networks. Despite the recent rosy glow surrounding Silver Spring, Cisco’s size and networking experience could put a few clouds on the startup’s horizon. Read More about Why Silver Spring Should Be Worried About Cisco
While in Hong Kong on a business trip recently, Oliver Goh was on his laptop playing around in a virtual world, when he realized he’d left the water running in his home back in Switzerland. He noticed this because the virtual world contained a recreation of his Swiss residence that pulled information about the home’s energy and water consumption in real time. The gauge that measures water use was blinking. No problem: After his avatar hit the right button, the real-world water valve in Switzerland turned off.
That’s one of the applications of the OpenShaspa Home Energy Kit, available starting tomorrow from the startup that Goh co-founded, also called Shaspa. Created with open-source components like Arduino circuit boards, the kit comes with a system that can monitor and control home power output with wireless sensors, and connect this data to mobile phone and Internet applications. (After reading Katie’s story on another open-source energy tool, ACme, Goh says he plans to add an OpenShaspa device driver that supports it.) Sensors for gas, water and other utility resources can be integrated into the control system, as well.
Read More about Eco Gamers: Manage Energy in a Virtual World with Shaspa
The announcement this week that Miami could soon be home to the nation’s largest smart grid project brought together some of the biggest companies in the space, GE and Cisco; one of its most promising startups, Silver Spring Networks; and the utility arm of the nation’s largest wind and solar energy generator, Florida Power & Light (FPL). But despite all the stimulus-friendly talk of being “shovel-ready,” the project was first outlined in D.C. at a dinner meeting just six weeks ago, according to Cisco spokeswoman Jennifer Greeson. In other words, there are plenty of details yet to be worked out — including what roles each of the partners will play.
Some things are clear: GE will provide a million smart meters and certain in-grid technology; Silver Spring, which we’ve referred to as the “Cisco of smart grid,” will provide the core networking infrastructure, from the utility substation down to the home, as well as some of the back-end management software. Cisco’s role, meanwhile, is less clear.
As part of the Energy Smart Miami announcement, Cisco CEO John Chambers repeatedly called the smart grid an “instant replay” of the Internet. But while Cisco’s role in the Internet revolution has largely been to provide the workhorse networking tools for large-scale data centers, the company isn’t angling for a major role in FPL’s backend systems, according to the partners, though it will act as an adviser on some key networking issues. Instead, Cisco has its best opportunity yet to leverage some of its recent acquisitions in the consumer space by providing devices and networking that will help FPL’s residential customers manage their energy use. Read More about Cisco’s Latest Consumer Play: The Smart Grid
There’s been an awful lot of hubbub about the smart grid lately. The stimulus bill may have allocated $4.5 billion to a dramatic expansion of the modernized, IT-enabled power grid, but it’s already keeping more than a handful of journalists and PR folks employed. One angle that seems to be getting a lot of play is the impact that smart grid technologies will have out at the ‘edge’ of the network — that is, in consumers’ homes. But how significant is that impact, really?
A mystery notebook-like little device spied at Lenovo’s offices in China has surfaced, along with some very intriguing photos on the company’s photo stream. The “Pocket Yoga” is barely bigger than a little keyboard yet seems to pack in a trackstick and touchscreen. There are no specs or even confirmation that this is a real device, but it looks pretty cool nonetheless. Based on the hinge in the pictures, it looks like the screen folds over the back of the device and uses a stylus so it’s a teeny-tiny Tablet in that regard. Let’s hope this makes it to a real product simply because it’s cool to see Lenovo challenge our expectations as Sony did with the Vaio P. Speaking of Vaio P there may be one appearing in the very near future. 🙂
Positive Energy, a startup that makes software and analytics systems used by utilities to provide better smart meter services, has raised a $14 million round from New Enterprise Associates. The funding was reported by the Washington Business Journal and by VentureWire. (Update: The company confirmed the funding with us as well)
The Arlington, Va.-based company, which was one of our 25 up-and-coming startups to watch in the smart home energy space, was founded in March 2007 and had previously raised an undisclosed amount of angel funding. Essentially, Positive Energy helps utilities’ customers cut energy consumption with tools like home energy reports, energy-focused utility web sites and carbon calculators.
Those kind of tools are becoming increasingly attractive to utilities as a way to help them curb the growing demand for energy in the most cost-effective way possible. According to the California Public Utilities Commission, adding energy efficiency programs costs about half of what it takers to add more base-load generation.
Read More about Positive Energy Raises $14M from NEA
GigaOM readers are well-versed in both the wireless broadband networks that carriers are building and the Wi-Fi gear that we use in our homes, but what about the wireless technology that is starting to manage energy for the power grid as well as energy use within our homes? Sensor technology and wireless networks can provide disruptive innovations and increased transparency for the energy industry, enabling utilities to make the grid smarter and help consumers slash energy use.
Here’s our pick of five startups that are using wireless in innovative ways to change the energy landscape. Read More about 5 Startups Putting Wireless To Work for Energy