Smart Energy Profile 2.0 – a case of too much PAP?

Just when you though Smart Energy was settling down, and it was going to be smart meters all round, the smart grid movement is getting its knickers in a twist.  It’s not a problem about what needs to be done, but about the standards, what goes into the standards and who is responsible for them?  In the past few weeks both NIST and the ZigBee Alliance have had some major tantrums, which raises questions about the speed and degree of technology push that is being forced on the industry.

There is no lack of agreement about the need to improve the grid and the way that we consume energy.  Growing demand, political concern over the stability of supplies, climate change worries, new challenges in the form of electric vehicles and decades of underinvestment in generating capacity and the grid have persuaded Governments around the world to support and mandate investment in new “smart” technology from smart meters in homes to intelligence in the grid.  The last time the world saw a similar level of stimulus was in the 1930s, during the great depression.  So this really is likely to be a once in a lifetime event.  The political will is there, the question is who decides how it is going to be done?  Groups like NIST in the US are pushing hard to put things in place, but are groups like this too academic in their approach?  Over the last year they’ve set up eighteen Priority Action Plans or PAPs to oversee development.  (A potentially unfortunate acronym as my dictionary defines pap as “worthless or oversimplified ideas”).  And according to a recent pronouncement they obviously don’t think the industry is doing enough to meet the challenge.  But before we look at that, let me share a quote with you:

“I hate those guys.  I hate those legislators and politicians – not because they restrict business and screw up the markets, even though they do and it does.  I hate governments because I know those guys.  I went to school with them.  And let me tell you, the weakest, most ignorant, most drunken incompetents work for the US government. And the bottom of the barrel, know-nothing dicks design the regulations for a market they know nothing about.  Why should we look at the regulations they’ve put in place by committee and go “Yeah, you suck at your jobs, fine, we’ll ignore that and suck at ours too?”

Not my words, but those of Lucy Prebble from her brilliant play “Enron“.  It’s a diatribe that she gives to Jeffrey Skilling – Enron’s President, as his empire starts to crumble.  Strangely, from a character that has little to commend himself throughout the rest of the play, it’s a dramatic moment where you suddenly start to feel sympathy with him, particularly if you’ve ever worked in a regulated industry.  Of course, that speech is just fiction and has nothing to do with the current situation…

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Ten Wireless Standards, Sitting on the Wall…

The Smart Metering industry is deperate to decide on a standard for short range communication.  The UK Goverment has rushed through its consultation with a deadline for a technical standard by the end of next year, and in the US, SGIP’s PAP02 group wants to do it even faster.  Whilst we need to start deploying devices, it concerns me that there’s a rush to make decisions with very little consideration of the relative merits of the different contenders.

There’s no shortage of contenders.  At the last count I came across ten short range wireless standards that all think they should be the winner.  Those include Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Wavenis, Dash7, wireless MBUS, wireless KNX, DECT, Z-Wave and Bluetooth low energy.  And they’re just the industry developed standards.

What worried me even more than the obvious rush was a off-hand comment made in a European standards meeting that I attended earlier this year.  One of the people responsible for deciding on a common standard for Europe made the comment that “we’re not going to give any time to industry standards”.  The subject of her venom was ZigBee, but it’s a charge that I’m increasingly hearing levelled at all of the “industry” standards.  It appears there’s a perception amongst members of the older established Standards Development Organisations (SDOs) that because industry standards have not been produced by their traditional specification process, they’re not as good.  That’s a very dangerous approach to take.

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