Smart meters, which are meters that are hooked up to a network so that they can deliver information about current usage in a timely manner, are rapidly becoming ubiquitous. For example the nation’s largest utility, PG&E, has so far has installed smart meters for 360,000 electricity and 1.75 million natural gas customers. By the end of 2011, PG&E plans to have smart meters installed in all 5.2 million electricity and 4.8 million natural gas meters on its gas and electric networks.
What Kinds of Software is Needed By Smart Meters?
Smart meters will enable real time energy decisions in response to current conditions. They form a critical cornerstone of the smart grid. In fact, in many ways, they are the “smart” in the smart grid. This opens up a whole slew of new opportunities for smart software developers and smart entrepreneurs [no pun intended] to build the software applications and services to support and to add value to these new smart networked grids.
Want to read more on the smart grid check out “ The Green Economy Will Need a Smart Grid…and Building it will be Big Business” , which examines the critical glue of our nations future energy economy from a broader perspective.
This software, and these networked exposed services, will include embedded controllers ranging from network nodes inside utility operated sub-stations, to those embedded in large institutional and industrial consumers internal energy management systems. Eventually, as smart appliances are manufactured controllers will be used for all manner of appliances, including: clothes washers and dryers, water heaters, home furnaces, refrigerators and air conditioners. Sophisticated user interfaces will also be needed that securely enable consumers to remotely administer their energy usage. They will also be used to configure their smart appliances in their home systems. This model can be applied on a different scale to factories, offices, schools, hospitals etc.). Furthermore, all of these networked energy producing, storage and consuming sub-systems and the various smart nodes will need an integrated security infrastructure to prevent the energy networks from being vulnerable to malicious hackers.
All manner of new applications and value added products will find rich niches in this new market. A good example would be sophisticated profiling software that can deliver granular assessments of what the best opportunities for saving energy exist within some home (or institutional) network. This would be based on a baseline of data gathered from the networked energy appliances and the usage patterns in the larger context of wider grid fluctuations of supply and demand. Firewalls for these inner networks of smart appliances will needed to be built in order to protect access to sensitive information, and to safeguard networked appliances from becoming controlled in an unauthorized manner.
Software for Energy Suppliers and Larger Institutional Consumers
For larger institutional users, there may be tie-ins with carbon accounting systems (and software). For example, a large institution that implements a smart energy usage plan may be able to significantly reduced its carbon footprint, and be able to record this onto its carbon balance sheet – but only if it can clearly account for these savings and show how its smart energy plan reduced peak grid demand. On the supply side, real time price spot market conditions can deliver signals for when to release supplies onto the grid. (This is assuming that these spot markets are opened up to small suppliers.) For example, various widely distributed energy storage technologies, such as flywheel, super-conducting capacitors, batteries, compressed air etc. seem a natural pair to intermittent energy harvesting systems. These storage nodes will be able to respond to real-time spot conditions to sell onto the peak and build up stores in the demand troughs – thus evening out peaks and valleys of supply and demand.
Brand New Kinds of Software and Services are Likely Waiting to be Discovered
Many as yet unforeseen software applications and new services will be discovered as intelligence becomes pervasive in the grids and on the consuming appliances. Various sub-networks (such as a home energy network) and these applications will pop up in surprising new places. Smart energy applications for Smartphone’s, enabling users to control while on the go — and why not! As a software developer, I am excited by the huge potential I can see in these new networks that couple energy flows with the flow of information. I wonder what others are thinking along these lines. Where do you see this leading? What new products and services do you think will become enabled by this brand new kind of coupled-network that is just now being born into our world?
© 2009, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.