Smart Grids: Hold On – My Fridge is Calling!

Updated: June 29, 2010

The starting point for this analysis is to make you aware of the USNAP Alliance, and then all this will start making some sense. First is the name, which is an acronym for Utility Smart Network Access Port. The basic idea here is the development of a standardized interface that will support smart home applications. The USNAP Alliance has a blue chip membership (such as Google and GE, as well as energy majors such as Itron, Comverge, Trilliant and Sensus Metering), and reflects the fact that there's a lot at stake here.

Think of the USB port and how that makes life easier for us to attach a whole variety of peripherals to our PCs. If you're using a USB plug, you don't think about it - you know it will work with your PC. That's what the USNAP standard will do for smart home. While these life-changing gadgets have yet to be invented, you know they're coming, and we'll all be using them before you know it.

I'm writing about this now because their Version 2.0 specification has just been made public, so for the inventors and developers out there who see a big future in smart grid/smart home, this is a great time to up to speed on USNAP. Let's get back to business. If you understand how important the media gateway is at the edge of your network - or possibly your session border controller - then you should now see where this is going.

The smart grid equivalent is the AMI - Advanced Metering Infrastructure - or smart meter that your local utility has likely been telling you about. Both are edge devices, so to speak, and control the flow of signal entering and leaving the premise. Smart meters add value because they enable two-way, real-time communication. This gives utilities unprecedented intelligence, not just about how much energy is being consumed, but how and by which endpoints.

I say endpoints here, as I'm fast forwarding a bit to the time when our home appliances will not just communicate directly with the smart meter, but by being broadband enabled, they'll communicate with other entities such their manufacturers (GE, Whirlpool, Maytag, etc.), as well as even with each other. Yes, machines talking to machines. This may not impact your workflow today, but it will down the road.

The world of smart home applications is just emerging, but with the help of industry standards like USNAP, the market will advance faster and more painlessly. There will be plenty of mundane USNAP gadgets to help everyday life in the home, but that car sitting in the garage will be part of the ecosystem. So will virtually every device you use in your home office, which at some level will connect back to your company's office and network. Is this making sense now?

Could you get a call from your fridge while you're on a conference call with customers? Absolutely. You may very well be the designated point of contact when the fridge detects that the compressor needs servicing. You may even have programmed the fridge to auto-alert you when certain food items are running low. It could just be your utility advising you the fridge will be cycled down for low power consumption during a peak load time over the next three hours.

All I can say is be careful what you wish for; if we're not careful, these applications will run our lives, and when something in the back of your head tells you to go rent Sleeper, Woody Allen's take on the future won't seem so funny this time around.

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