By Rich Nesin, General Manager and Resident Philosopher, HomePNA
It’s hard to find a conference targeted at communication service providers (remember when you could just say telco and everyone knew what you meant) that doesn’t have a session or two on getting your slice of the broadband stimulus dollars. Well, there’s similar activity in the world of power transmission. With power companies flirting with becoming communication suppliers, the lines between traditional entertainment, communication, and power service providers have blurred, and developments such as Smart Grid are garnering the interest of traditional communication service providers as well.
According to Wikipedia, a smart grid “includes an intelligent monitoring system that keeps track of all electricity flowing in the system”. One piece of this might be a Smart Meter (SM) installed on your house by the power company. SMs are not your father’s electrical power meter and upgrading to all SMs can be an expensive proposition. Although it may be natural to assume that Smart Grid means SMs, communication service providers that do may be missing significant business opportunities.
HomePNA recently participated in answering a Request for Information (RFI) issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). If you’re not familiar with the OSTP, it was established by Congress in 1976. The OSTP Director gives advice to the president’s office on technology-based issues that require executive attention – those affecting major domestic and international policies, plans, and programs of the Federal Government. So the OSTP is helping direct where the government bucks go. It also helps coordinate federal, state, and local government efforts with industry and the educational community.
The RFI started, predictably enough, asking if the SM should serve as the primary gateway for residential energy usage. Our answer was no. While SM technology is one alternative, it’s certainly not the only one. Why not take advantage of the growth of Internet-based services to consumers to also provide energy-related services? Why not give consumers the option of implementing energy management in their home independent of a utility-provided SM – maybe enabling a greater degree of control over their own energy usage. I know, it’s a complex issue and it’s certainly tempting to standardize prematurely -- however innovation might suffer. It’s hard to err by supporting the development of competing technologies and letting the market decide. Tightly linking Home Grid in-home energy management with specific technologies – like SM, gateway, or home network -- or even to a type of service provider could hurt you in the long run.
On the other hand, developing open standards that enable non-traditional solutions from non-traditional providers? That would fall under “good things”.