Discovery Showcase: 10 new smart grid technologies worth a look


By: SGN Staff

By Liz Enbysk

SGN Managing Editor


If your day job was hitting every smart grid conference and roaming the exhibition halls, poring through trade publications and tracking announcements online - maybe, just maybe you could stay current on the steady stream of product releases and emerging smart grid technologies.  Here’s an easier way - this latest installment in our Discovery Showcase series features snapshots of 10 new products and/or upgrades we thought you might be interested in -- plus Quick Takes from SGN analyst Jesse Berst and links to get you more information.


1.     Private spectrum option for smart grid communications - Tropos has added new fixed mesh and mobile mesh routers - Tropos 7329 Mesh Router and Tropos 4329 Mobile Mesh Router  -   to its line of products that support the 4.9 GHz spectrum.  "The 4.9 GHz spectrum provides utilities an economical licensed spectrum option for implementation of smart grid networks,” notes Tom Ayers, Tropos president and CEO.  Municipal utilities are currently allowed to use  the licensed 4.9 GHz Public Safety band and the Utilities Telecom Council has proposed changes to the FCC’s spectrum rules  to make the process easier for utilities. Read Tropos’ tech brief: The 4.9 GHz Spectrum and Municipal Utilities.

Quick Take: By supporting additional spectrum, Tropos is making it easier for utilities to create hybrid, mix-and-match communications networks. That "layered" or "hybrid" approach is a growing trend.


2.     Grid power monitoring - Silver Spring Networks' new app proactively notifies you of meter locations where voltage levels slip outside expected levels. Leveraging distributed intelligence in Silver Spring networking devices, the UtilityIQ® Power Monitor allows utilities to use smart grid devices already deployed to improve grid efficiency applications such as Conservation Voltage Reduction and Volt/VAR Optimization. Read about the app that IDs grid issues before trouble starts.

Quick Take: Using existing equipment for new applications... that's what we should all be doing. This approach is just one reason Silver Spring Networks is evolving to become a full-fledged smart grid platform.


3.     EV charging with wind power - Green Mountain Energy, a retail electricity provider in Texas, launched Pollution Free EV - which it says is the first widely available and 100%emissions-free Texas wind-powered product for drivers of plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.  To do so, Green Mountain has partnered with eVgo, which is creating a network of home charging stations and high-powered, fast charging stations for EVs.  Green Power customers in Texas can use Pollution Free EV to power both their EVs and homes with wind. Read more about EV charging with wind power.

Quick Take: The ability to give customers choices -- to move away from one-size-fits-all electric power -- is a key reason that we expect a renaissance in retail competition.


.4.     Wide area coverage for device networking - On-Ramp Wireless has upgraded its Ultra-Link ProcessingTM (ULP) System, which provides global device monitoring for smart grids. The company says the expanded features enable secure, wide-area, low cost coverage and capacity, even for hard-to-reach powered or battery-operated meters and sensors connecting to utility and other industrial apps. The upgrade also introduces a fully featured network back-end.  Get more details on wide-area coverage for device networking.

Quick Take: Keep an eye on this company. It is quietly gaining traction due to its ability to communicate with hard-to-reach assets, such as those underground.


5.     COS-enabled communications modules - Echelon’s Control Operating System (COS) software will run on its new open-standard power line and ZigBee communications modules now available for NES smart meters.  CNX 3000 for power line and CNX 2000 for ZigBee  give utilities an easy way to connect to building information and control devices like load controllers, motion sensors and smart thermostats. This allow utilities to use the Echelon COS software to provide customers with insights into energy usage  and efficiency opportunities. Learn how this is enabling an electric utility in Finland to reach beyond the meter.

Quick Take: Like Silver Spring Networks, Echelon wants to become a platform with an ecosystem of compatible products. It has a unique angle because the company has long sold both smart meters and home automation products. The convergence of smart grid and smart buildings lets it marry its expertise in both areas.


6.     Automating electric distribution systems - GE’s new Proficy® Grid Manager is a software solution aimed at T&D utilities. The portfolio of grid optimization software technologies helps improve operational reliability and efficiency with real-time information and analytics. The company says what sets Profiy Grid Manager apart is its open and layered architecture that seamlessly connects with a utility’s current systems and applications with the flexibility to layer additional capabilities on top. Read more about GE’s  smart grid solution.

Quick Take. Utilities are just now waking up to the fact that they can do more than monitor their smart grids. They can optimize them. This is an important step for GE, which is still seen by many as primarily a hardware vendor, not a software and solutions company. (Despite the many software tools in its portfolio.)


7.     Enabling smart homes - RF Monolithics, a Dallas-based M2M wireless technology provider, has introduced the very tiny ZPM3570 2.4 GHz ZigBee Pro module. With its small size (less than 0.63 square inches in area), 1 MB data logging flash memory and ZigBee Smart Energy and Home Automation Profiles support, the company says the module is a natural for enabling smart homes that can control appliances, lighting, security and energy management. Learn more about this smart home enabler.

Quick Take: If there's one thing that's holding back the smart home, it's the expense of the necessary components. Here's a product that takes another step down the size and cost curve.


And these from our news files ...

8.     Next-generation meter-to-cash? IBM says it's got the answer

9.     Collision ahead - yet another smart grid "platform" emerges from stealth mode

10.  Smart grid sensors at the beginning of an upswing