PG&E; Turns Away from PowerMeter, Hohm and Others In Favor of Open Smart Grid Standards


PG&E;'s Andrew Tang at Green:Net earlier this year speaking on smart grid standards

Rather than jumping to sign up with myriad smart grid start-up programs like Google's PowerMeter, Microsoft's Hohm or any of the many others, Pacific Gas and Electric of California is waiting around for the big fish - a standardized interface approved by the Open Smart Grid group. And this waiting game might prove to be the smartest strategy for a utility for a few reasons.There is one big problem in getting the smart grid rolling, and that's getting utilities to be early adopters with new software and hardware. Getting utilities on board helps everyone, because snags can be sorted out, and we can work through the rise and fall of start-up companies in the scene. The sooner utilities adapt to the smart grid, the sooner we can get it all into place. However, there's a couple reasons why PG&E; holding out for standards might be a smart move in this case.

First of all, when utilities hold out for standards, standards are more likely to get hammered out quickly. We need standardized platforms so that infrastructure put into place now can all be connected together, and so that the smart grid can grow without needing to be replaced every other year. However, we're still waiting for official standards to be worked out, beyond the industry accepted Zigbee platform. The Green Grid has announced a first set, and more finalized versions will be on their way. But they aren't here yet.

Instead, companies are rolling out their own goods and services and working to sign on utilities. Smart Meters reports that Andrew Tang, senior director of the Smart Energy Web at PG&E;, spoke with Katie Fehrenbacher of Earth2Tech last week, stating:

"I don't want to pick winners," said Tang. "I want to work on more of a neutral ground." Tang went on to explain that with the numerous development firms and their various options for energy management, PG&E; is hesitant to pick one unless the integration is seamless and processes involved are standardised. Tang said that PG&E; isn't going to develop software for third parties because the utility lacks those resources.

Holding out means not getting locked in with a particular vendor, and therefore the utility maintains flexibility to choose the best services later on. Utilities want to have the best tools for their customers, and they want to always be able to provide the best. If they jump on with a company who can't evolve with the mind-numbingly fast pace of smart grid technology, then that utility risks having to invest all over again in another system with another vendor.

PG&E; is holding out for neutral standards, and it could prove to be an intelligent move. Additionally, having utilities show support for open standards is a boon for increasing open sourced information for software and hardware attached to our resources. Hanging on the other hand, however, is the fact that we need these standards, and a solidified smart grid, as soon as yesterday. Utilities failing to get cracking with some systems is part of what's slowing it all down.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
More on the Smart Grid
A Smart Grid Bubble, or Business as Usual?
Smart Grid Cyber War Games Test Security Risks
Green:Net 2009: Smart Grid Standards According to the Experts (Video)

Tags: Computing | Energy Efficiency | Utilities