ZigBee, IP Integration for Smart Energy, Demand Management

by Ravi Sharma, Ember Corp.

Big money is flowing into smart grid and smart energy development. The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded more than $3.4 billion to 100 smart grid projects as part of the stimulus bill, on top of the hundreds of millions that U.S. utilities are investing themselves. Much of that investment targets smart meters and wireless home area networks (HAN) that support smart energy initiatives.

ZigBee has emerged as the preferred standard for smart meter deployment and HAN devices. The global, low-power wireless networking standard was designed specifically for remote control and monitoring applications. The Internet Protocol (IP) plays a key role in smart energy communications, as well.

ZigBee and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the organization that develops and promotes IP, are joining to provide interoperability and a complete ecosystem of smart energy wireless options with native IP support. The ZigBee Alliance, IETF and IP for Smart Objects (IPSO) Alliance have partnered to drive HAN adoption and to work on a ZigBee IP specification to integrate native IP support into the ZigBee stack. The IPSO Alliance is an open consortium of companies working to market and educate about using IP as the protocol for smart objects such as those in sensor and control networks.

The collaboration is driving the market forward. As the communications standard for the Internet, most business and home computer networks, IP is ubiquitous, reliable, understood by developers and has a huge installed infrastructure. ZigBee provides a proven ZigBee Smart Energy 2.0 application profile that specifies smart energy device interoperability and how devices should behave and perform. It also brings testing labs and certification processes to ensure product manufactures adhere to interoperability standards, and it provides consumers ZigBee-certified label assurance. ZigBee Smart Energy products will enhance their application capabilities with native IP support, allowing seamless integration of Internet connectivity into each product. ZigBee also gains the knowledge and experience contained in IETF standards for large-scale network addressability, security and IT integration. Using the ZigBee IP specification and the ZigBee Smart Energy 2.0 standard, the two standards bodies will expand the use of IP over HANs for smart grid applications.

Why is this significant for utilities? HANs for smart energy management come when wireless home automation products that control entertainment, lighting, climate and security systems are showing up even in middle-class homes. ZigBee has driven this wave of affordable home automation, which dovetails into HAN energy-management applications.

Everyday devices and smart appliances in homes communicate with each other and utilities through gateways such as smart meters. These smart grid-integrated HANs enable homeowners and utilities to communicate in real time and collaboratively manage energy consumption more efficiently, especially during peak demand. They enable information exchange between consumers and utilities for things such as real-time consumption data, time-of-day pricing information, demand response (DR) actions and remote-service disconnects. During peak demand, the smart grid and HANs can work together for real-time communication among consumers, businesses and utilities and automatically manage high-load devices in participating homes, such as adjusting the thermostat of an HVAC system. Utilities save big by not building new power plants, which also cuts carbon dioxide emissions. Homeowners save through lower bills and rebates, and communities avoid rolling blackouts.

The ZigBee Smart Energy application profile is well-established in the smart energy market with more than 40 million ZigBee smart electric meters announced globally by utilities, as well as showing up in smart energy devices such as in-home energy displays, smart plugs and thermostats.

ZigBee Smart Energy 2.0 was included in the National Institute of Standards Technology’s (NIST’s) Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 1.0.

IPSO advances IP standards from the IETF such as the low-power IP standard (LoWPAN) and Routing Over Low-Power and Lossy networks (ROLL) to demonstrate the use of IP in sensor and control networks.

ZigBee and IP integration offer utilities and consumers seamless interoperability and options for product development in managing DR and smart energy applications. ZigBee Smart Energy profile significantly accelerates and simplifies application development while ensuring that certified products work together.

Integrating the smart grid with wireless ZigBee and IP HANs is an extension of the large-scale adoption of low-power, wireless mesh networking in various applications.

For example, whole-house automation systems are becoming standard in upscale homes and are making significant inroads in modest homes as device and installation costs drop. Broadband and wireless telecom service providers are offering home-awareness services that enable access and control of connected home systems over the Internet or cell phones. Adding energy-management capabilities is natural in this evolution.

Wireless networking—rather than wired technologies—slashes installation costs and allows use of long-life, battery-powered devices not directly connected to home power lines, such as thermostats, security sensors and remote controls and displays, to be integrated into the network.

That’s great motivation to drive consumer adoption, but what’s in it for utilities? If energy demand can respond dynamically to the available energy supply, then huge cost, reliability and energy efficiency gains can be achieved in homes and the energy grid without building additional power plants.

While homeowners will not be required to participate in DR programs, they might be incented to participate through preferential pricing rates during peak-energy demand.

Energy usage information provided by utilities also will educate homeowners to be more aware and monitor and manage energy consumption on their own.

Combining the strengths of the ZigBee Smart Energy standard with the ubiquity of IP, utilities embarking on smart energy deployments have a seamless path for communication and control between themselves and consumers.

It also will trigger a rich, new ecosystem of smart energy and smart grid devices that integrate seamlessly from the HAN to smart meters to large-scale utility networks, enabling consumers and utilities to conserve energy and manage peak demand together.


Ravi Sharma is director of marketing for Ember Corp. He has worked in the technology industry for more than eight years. Sharma has served in marketing roles at start-ups and public companies, including Virtual Machine Works, IKOS Systems and Mentor Graphics. Reach him at ravi.sharma@ember.com.

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