Smart-grid companies are the latest to copy the mobile phone apps model in a bid to get traction for their technology.
Echelon on Wednesday introduced a software platform and hardware device designed to collect and process information coming from smart meters and other devices at the edge of the power grid. The company also announced that utility Duke Energy has signed on as a customer.
To modernize the grid, utilities are installing sensors along the grid network and two-way meters at customer premises. These hardware devices gather information that help utilities run the grid more efficiently and reliably. For example, smart meters can tell utilities how much electricity customers' are drawing in real time and sensors can help spot problems when a transformer serving a neighborhood is getting overheated.
Echelon, which makes smart meters and control systems for buildings, introduced a system that can process the large amounts of data generated by edge grid hardware and automate certain tasks, such as reporting a problem to utilities or redirecting the flow of electricity. The software is called the Echelon Control System (Ecos) and a hardware device, designed to be hung on a utility pole in a local distribution point, is called the Edge Control Node (ECN) 7000.
The hardware system is open enough that other hardware companies can build networking cards for it, explained Jeff Lund, the vice president of development at Echelon. Those hardware companies, such as meter makers, can write software applications for utilities, such as demand response--where electricity customers shift their energy consumption to off-peak times. Echelon hopes that eventually, software-only companies will write applications for its software control system.
"What we're enabling is a control layer so you're connecting devices and making decisions close to the point of action, which is more reliable, more scalable, and less expensive," Lund said.
Right now, a lot of data is sent over proprietary networking protocols and processed back at utilities' data centers. But bandwidth can be limited and making sense of the huge amounts of data generated by devices can be easier when done at the edge of the network, Lund said.
As two-way meters and sensors get installed, a number of companies are focusing on the networking portion of the grid. SmartSynch, for example, makes a "grid router" designed to talk multiple protocols and Cisco last week announced a deal with Itron to develop IP-based communications technology.