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Powerline smart grid proponents compete at Connectivity Week

Posted: 28 May 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:power line  smart grid  Connectivity Week 

Powerline smart grid proponents go head-tohead at the Connectivity Week shooting off competing announcements aimed at the emerging market for smart electric grids. Adversaries were quick to admit the market potential is huge, but the there is still no end in sight to years of fragmentation in their technical approaches.

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance announced its GreenPHY specification for low-power smart grid applications and said STMicroelectronics has joined the group. The competing HomeGrid Forum said the ITU specification it backs could be ratified within weeks and it formed a new working group to create design guidelines to develop clean technology products using it.

In a panel discussion, Echelon Corp. said it is designing its fifth generation narrowband powerline products. Maxim also described a powerline technology geared for smart grids that it is putting into trials in France.

Competing standards have also emerged. A new IEEE 1901.2 group met for to define a standard for narrowband powerline networking. In parallel the ITU has started a new energy management work group to draft a similar standard.

Powerline backers are even at odds over coexistence mechanisms. The IEEE 1901 group has defined one approach, but the ITU has defined a separate one. In the narrowband world, a third method has become widely adopted, said Bob Dolin, chief technology officer of Echelon.

"There are multiple non-interoperable technologies and standards now that persist, and that does hold back the market," said Rob Rank, president of the HomePlug group.

"There are perhaps 16 standards in powerline, and if you asked a PC maker which one he would integrate they could not pick one," said Mike Bourton, co-founder of Grid2Home Inc., a home automation software developer who moderated a panel on the topic here.

"Anyone who claims there is a standard today is wrong—people are just trying to spin their technologies the best they can," said Matt Theall, president of HomeGrid, but he predicted a future market of one to 200 crore [two billion] units per year.

"Co-existence is the key, and hopefully interoperability issues addressed can be addressed in the applications layer," Theall said, noting some component makers will deliver hybrid products supporting multiple standards.

"I have five different radios and I have no trouble sorting them out, because I just buy apps" said Dolin of Echelon. "If I can buy apps that work, the different technologies will naturally segment into markets," he said.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is trying to drive standards efforts across all smart grid areas, including powerline networking. A powerline group under NIST's newly formed Smart Grid Interoperability Panel has a draft plan to adopt a variant of Europe's narrowband approach, but there is no significant progress in the broadband area.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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