Looking to the future – smart homes and smart grids


Terry Mohn,
San Diego Gas &
Electric Company
San Antonio, TX, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — May 15, 2007 –The 8th Metering, Billing/CIS America closed Friday with a high level panel discussion on smart home and smart grid issues: the future – and the consensus was that the smart home will be the home of the future, but that it has got to be technology, rather than consumer, enabled.

“AMI is the key, allowing communication through the electric or gas meter into the home,” said Terry Mohn, technology strategist at San Diego Gas & Electric Company and panel moderator, opening the discussion. “It will allow communication with devices such as thermostats inside the home, opening the way for the provision of demand response and other new services to customers.”

Chris Hickman, president of the Energy Services division of Site Controls, said that AMI is set to “change everything we do and the way we do it.” Commenting that climate change issues are becoming increasingly mainstream in the U.S., he said he had no doubt that within the next five years a “tipping point” would be reached in terms of how the power market operates. “Change will be fast and disruptive to the existing order, and the home area network is going to truly matter,” Hickman said, adding that even a penetration as low as 10 percent would be enough to change the power load profile.

Chris Roden, research analyst at Parks Associates, supported this view, saying that service opportunities at the utility-consumer intersect, indicated by the company’s research, are demand side power management, improved customer service and building trust. “As these are utility driven, utilities must be interested and motivated to deliver these applications,” said Roden, cautioning they must, however, be cost effective and sustainable.

Louis Szablya, executive vice president and managing director Utility Division of GridPoint, pointed out that a smart grid was simply a power system overlain with an information system. “Through a central energy management point, other generation, storage and load management options can be integrated in, allowing both utility control and customer choice.”

Brent Hodges, vice president marketing and business development of the ZigBee Alliance, advocated ZigBee as the communication standard for home automation, saying that “an open global standard is important to ensure interoperability across different applications and devices from different manufacturers.” Hodges also noted that with more than 200 member companies in the Alliance, many ZigBee enabled products are in prospect.

Bud Vos, vice president marketing at Comverge, commented that the inside of the home is a “different world,” with probably almost as many different configurations as there are devices. While supporting the need for open standards, Vos said these take time to implement and thus there is a need for “early adopters, in ZigBee, Bluetooth, etc., as this will drive openness.” Vos also noted that home integration should mean “can” rather than “must,” as not all utilities may be able to make a business case around integration.

Bob Warden, vice president Corporate Accounts at Echelon, highlighted the point that “consumers don’t want to be technologists,” and that they expect to install “plug and play devices” that “build their own network autonomously.” Noting that as yet there is “no single universal killer application or device,” Warden suggested that there is opportunity for “iPod like examples in the utility space,” and he predicted that the future utility network will be web-based with applications connected to virtual IP devices.

Will West, CEO of Control4, suggested that the smart home solution must be a “lifestyle solution” and that while delivering energy savings it must also provide improved customer comfort and convenience. Moreover the home control center must be incrementally upgradeable, as “we don’t know where the demand is coming from and it’s going to be different for different consumers.”

Added West: “Is it comfort or sweat for consumers? The utility decides.”