While communications technology was used in the electrical grid long before we started labeling it as “smart,” integration of these communications networks into a common fabric is an essential characteristic of the smart grid. This integration requires adapting existing standards or creating new ones to meet the specific needs of the grid applications. That process is well underway – as documented in Pike Research’s new report, Smart Grid Networking and Communications.
There are two particular areas of progress to note: the evolution of a standards-based radio frequency (RF) mesh network for field area networks, and broader mainstream adoption of cellular communications.
The RF mesh network used for AMI networks and some distribution automation applications has historically been one of the most proprietary domains of grid communications. Silver Spring Networks carved out a leadership position in the wave of AMI deployments starting in 2008-2009 by offering an IPv6-based system. However, due to a lack of available standards, the radio and mesh protocols underneath the IP-layers remained proprietary. The IEEE and IETF, with the participation of many of AMI vendors, embarked on development of the appropriate standards embodied in IEEE 802.15.4g , 6loWPAN , and RPL specifications. Even as these were jelling, Cisco and Itron partnered (leveraging the Arch Rock technology acquired by Cisco) to develop a fully standard AMI network implementation, which was finally unveiled at the beginning of this year. Virtually every other AMI vendor has released IP-based roadmaps and meters promising the flexibility to be “IEEE 802.15.4g ready.”
On March 27-28 I will chair the “Smart Communications for Energy Management 2012” conference, created by our friends at Smart Grid Update, in Atlanta. A solid collection of leading vendors and utilities will gather to examine the issues around smart grid communications implementations, roadmaps, and standards. Join us if you can.