You've probably heard a lot about the smart grid in recent weeks and months. It's been getting a lot of press lately, but unless you're in the energy business the message may not be all that clear.
Smart Grid is a general term applied to a variety of efforts that improve the efficiency, reliability, and safety of our electric grid. Our current grid is already pretty smart, but energy security, availability, and environmental concerns require that our society and the human race do more. It's critical work for our future, and "smart grid" has become the rallying cry to identify and promote these efforts.
Advanced technologies are crucial to the operation of our physical energy infrastructure. Utilities have been applying information technology to their operations for decades, but until recently sophisticated sensors and monitoring devices were used in only in the most important and critical assets - mostly due to their high cost.
But the advent of the Internet and small, cheap sensors for low-cost computing devices has changed that.
About the Smart Meter
For the consumer, the most visible result of these smart grid initiatives is the deployment of advanced communicating meters, also known as "smart meters". These meters are physical devices, meant to replace the one currently outside your house or residence - only much more sophisticated. These meters are particularly important because they open the door to new ways for consumers to monitor, analyze, and control their personal energy use.
Utilities benefit from these meter deployments, too, as it allows them to run their businesses more efficiently and reliably. Remember, electricity isn't like oil - it can't be cost-effectively stored on a large scale and must be generated on-demand. Because energy generation costs and purchase prices behind the scenes vary so greatly, utilities are eager to provide customers incentives to use less energy when it costs the most.
In the United States and Canada, states and provinces have primary responsibility for regulating their own energy markets. Federal and national governments set guidelines and manage agencies that regulate intra-state and cross-border concerns, as well as interests of national security. This is one of the reasons deployment of smart meters varies greatly by state and province - even down to particular towns and regions. It's hard to keep up with, even for those of us in the industry. We've actually built an application to help show you where the smart meters are being deployed today - and will be releasing it shortly.
The Emergence of Home Area Networks
Better energy information for consumers and helping utilities operate more efficiently is an important first step, but there is much more happening here. Behind the scenes, utility companies, technology vendors, government bodies, and various other individuals and groups have been developing a set of standards to allow energy consuming devices, appliances, and controls to work together.
Imagine if the devices inside your home could communicate with each other and converse with the meter on the outside your house. During periods of peak energy demand, utility companies can send a signal to your smart meter, effectively alerting your home to the possibility of an energy brownout or blackout. Based on policies set by the you, the consumer, the devices inside your house can automatically take action to reduce energy use, even when you're not at home.
The concept is known as Home Area Networking (HAN). In return for your participation utilities will be willing to provide you better energy rates or other financial incentives. Additionally, a number of other scenarios are being developed that result in opportunities for financial savings, improved efficiency, and reduced environmental impact.
Sounds great, right? Believe it or not, it's closer than you think. More than 45 million smart meters are being deployed in the US and Canada in the next 5 years. Many utility companies are HAN-enabling their smart meters now or are planning to do so over the next 3-5 years. Technology companies are lining up to provide consumers products and devices that allow their customers to control and optimize their energy use.
That why we're here, and we're building a product to help consumers manage their HAN and take control of their energy use for financial, environmental, and personal benefit.