It’s been a busy year for Palo Alto, California-based Nest. In January, the firm was acquired by Google. Last month, Nest announced that it would acquire Dropcam, which offers a Wi-Fi-enabled portable camera that pairs with a cloud-based video monitoring service. Days later, the company launched the Nest Developer Program, enrolling early partners Mercedes-Benz, LIFX, Whirlpool, and Jawbone.
More recently, Nest introduced Thread, a personal area network (PAN) specification for device interconnectivity. This specification will be regulated by the Thread Group, of which Chris Boross of Nest will be president. Competing with other wireless specifications such as ZigBee, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth Smart, Thread is a low-power mesh-based solution that follows the IEEE 802.15.4 and IPv6 standards.
Much of the coverage (see here and here) of the Nest/Thread announcement has asked whether we really need another standard for networking in-home devices. Thread, though, has some advantages over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Wi-Fi uses a lot of power, which makes it impractical for low-power battery-operated devices such as thermostats or smoke alarms. Bluetooth Smart is already installed in most smartphones and is low power, but its range is limited. ZigBee has encountered problems with vendors making proprietary adjustments to the specification, making it impossible or very difficult for devices to interoperate.
Looking for Options
The burgeoning number of entrants in the networking protocol space signals increased competition and perceived high value to be found in the market for connected devices. For retail consumers, this means better products at lower prices that are easier to integrate into their connected life schema.
Unfortunately, for utilities looking to integrate energy-saving devices such as smart thermostats and lighting controls into their energy efficiency and demand response programs, multiple network protocol alliances present problems. In order to implement these programs, utilities are subject to numerous technology restrictions and standards from state public utilities commissions or regional independent system operators. OpenADR and ZigBee Smart Energy Profile are among these standards, and the further that protocol competition pushes the retail device market away from these, the narrower the options will be for utilities.
Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has engaged in extensive research on different models of smart thermostats, hoping to identify those that are easy to use and will yield a stronger customer experience (as well as meet energy efficiency and curtailment goals). However, any model that the utility looks at is subject to a number of technical requirements. Since these are set by regulating bodies, it’s unlikely that requirements will remain in stride with developments driven in the commercial market. As it is, the economics of utility deployments are not always favorable to vendors, particularly in programs where more than one thermostat option is offered and sales volumes are uncertain. It remains to be seen whether vendors will offer devices and platforms that can be used by the organizations that will require them to meet energy efficiency directives and load curtailment needs.
Tags: Building Systems, Energy Efficiency, Smart Grid Infrastructure, Smart Utilities Program
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