Why it may soon be easier to connect meters back to the utility (a new standard)



Quick Take:  ZigBee is a leading standard for connecting smart meters to home area networks and from there to in-home energy monitors. But there's been no single standard for connecting the meter back to the utility. Now the ZigBee Alliance is teaming with leading smart grid vendors to fill that gap. – Jesse Berst


ZigBee Alliance Announces Standards Activity For Smart Grid Neighborhood Area Networks


The ZigBee Alliance, a global ecosystem of organizations creating wireless solutions for use in energy management, commercial and consumer applications, announced that a group of leading smart metering and smart grid member companies are developing a communication profile aimed at achieving true plug-and-play interoperability between the members’ wireless smart grid Neighborhood Area Network (NAN) products and solutions. The NAN is defined as a utility’s last-mile, outdoor access network that connects smart meters and distribution automation devices to Wide Area Network (WAN) gateways such as RF collectors or data concentrators and field devices. (See figure below.)




There is a global requirement from regulators and utilities for standards-based interoperable NANs. Open global standards provide utilities with wider choice of product features, increased price competition, reduced supply risk and flexibility in selecting vendors all while assuring that products will interoperate seamlessly. Existing IEEE and IETF standards on their own do not ensure interoperability due to the many options available within the standards. The NAN specification will fill the gap by selecting the most appropriate options between standards and defining a communication profile with certifiable interoperability. This will be a significant improvement for utilities when compared with the non-interoperable, proprietary single-vendor solutions available today.


In order to ensure interoperability, a full wireless communications protocol is being defined for Layers 1 through 4 of the ISO OSI communication stack. This provides a harmonized transport network supporting different IP-based applications. Layers 1 and 2 will be based on the IEEE 802.15.4g amendment to the IEEE 802.15.4 (2011) standard that was introduced to enable the development of interoperable NANs. Layers 3 and 4 will be based on IEFT standards including the IPv6 network layer and associated networking schemes, appropriate routing and transport protocols (e.g., RPL, UDP and TCP) and relevant security mechanisms.


This wireless communications profile will enable interoperability between different vendors who have all implemented their smart meters, smart grid devices and communication infrastructure node products according to the certifiable NAN communications profile. Today’s existing smart grid applications such as smart metering and distribution automation will run on top of this interoperable wireless IPv6 communications profile.