ZigBee® in 2009


Perspectives and retrospectives are clichéd at this time of year, but there are real reasons to assess the state and direction of ZigBee in the coming year. We believe 2009 will be the year of ZigBee. Maybe Time will name ZigBee “Person of the Year” and feature a big, round and red Z on its cover.  Maybe President Obama will host ZigBee in the Rose Garden of the White House on Earth Day.  Maybe a year from now we’ll all be buying Christmas light controllers that communicate wirelessly with our home automation systems, and wrapping smart thermostats to place under the tree.  Whimsy aside, here are reasons why 2009 will be a pivotal year for ZigBee and residential energy management.

Looking Back A Year
To get a grasp on the potential of what might happen in 2009, we need to understand how much can change in 12 months. A year ago, at the end of 2007, the ZigBee Smart Energy public application profile did not officially exist.  Hence, no Smart Energy certified products existed.  In the United States, only two large utilities had announced contracts for large, next-generation advanced metering systems featuring ZigBee: Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. Outside the U.S., ZigBee had a toehold in a few other places such as Toronto, Canada and Gothenburg, Sweden.

Looking Around at Year’s End
A year later, the ZigBee Alliance now offers the ratified ZigBee Smart Energy profile.  Over twenty certified products interoperate with ZigBee Smart Energy. Those products represent the range of devices needed to manage home energy consumption: electricity meters, thermostats, in-home displays, gateways, load control switches, smart plugs.  To provide further standardization, the ZigBee Alliance and the HomePlug PowerLine Alliance are collaborating to create a Smart Energy profile that runs on both wireless and wired networks.

In the U.S., more large utilities have announced advanced metering plans that include ZigBee, including major utilities such as San Diego Gas & Electric, CenterPoint Energy, DTE Energy, and Reliant Energy. America has elected a new president and Congress, which promises positive changes in energy and climate policy. In particular, there is growing support for regulation to monetize greenhouse gas emissions, such as a cap-and-trade policy.  Regional efforts have already begun in this area. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in New England is the most developed, but other efforts like that of the Western Governor’s Association continue to develop.  

Around the world, oil prices continue to ride a rollercoaster of barrel price swings. Global recession dominates the financial news. The concept of a Smart Grid dominates discussions of energy policy, climate change, and national infrastructure plans—and few debate whether home-area networks like those enabled by ZigBee are part of a smarter grid.

Looking Ahead To Next Year
In surveying progress over the preceding 12 months and the current situation, it seems clear that a fundamental change in energy infrastructure is underway, with enough momentum to weather the current economic turmoil. Without divulging specific utility or company plans that are currently in the works, it is safe to say that:

  • additional companies are building home-area network devices for ZigBee Smart Energy certification, and hope to have those devices on the market next year
  • additional utilities, both large and small, are developing or adopting plans for mass deploying of Smart Grid and advanced metering projects that include home-area networking supported by ZigBee
  • more policies will be advanced in 2009 to address energy supply and security, climate change, and grid modernization, and those policies will provide support to the ZigBee Smart Energy market

By the end of 2009, a few million homes will be equipped by their utilities to support home-area networks built around ZigBee networking. A good percentage of those will have smart thermostats or in-home displays wrapped up under their 2009 Christmas tree. That would be a good end to a productive 2009, and great start on 2010.