Smart Energy networking comes home

Skip Ashton
13 Feb 2009

ZigBee's Smart Energy profile can streamline development of products that can help consumers create home networks to monitor energy usage - and save money on their utility bills

Homeowners must find new ways to conserve energy, and utilities need to deliver enhanced services and manage peak demand. Wouldn't it be helpful if utility companies and consumer devices could carry on a continuous background dialog about energy supply and consumption through wireless networking‾ They can, using the ZigBee Smart Energy (SE) profile.

SE is the newest application profile of the ZigBee wireless network standard. It defines the behaviors of secure, easy-to-use wireless communications between utility companies and home area network (HAN) devices. ZigBee SE offers developers an open standard for designing devices that serve the fast growing advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and HAN sectors. The technology enables two-way communications between common household devices and the utility companies' back-end IT infrastructure. The profile benefits consumers by allowing them to cost-effectively manage energy consumption, using automation and near real-time information, while having the ability to choose interoperable products from a diverse range of manufacturers.

This article will explain what the ZigBee SE profile is, how it accelerates engineering design, and what issues engineers need to consider when designing HAN products based on the ZigBee SE profile.

Real-time energy savings

Utilities in a number of regions are facing increasing demand while being handicapped by their inability to build power plants in a timely manner. Peak power usage has been growing faster than general power usage. Although peak consumption typically occurs

The types of loads to be reduced during peak demand periods include air conditioning, pool pumps or spa equipment, water heaters, smart appliances, and other such devices. A few hours offset in the operation of these devices is usually not noticeable to the homeowner, but such measures can significantly reduce peak power consumption.

Meanwhile, studies worldwide indicate that if you show homeowners their electricity usage on a real-time basis, they will find a way to reduce consumption by 15% to 20%. To tap the power of informed consumers and head off looming energy shortfalls and ever-higher demand spikes, utilities and regulators are developing Smart Energy networks.

ZigBee SE: a history

A ZigBee Smart Energy profile group was formed to specify how such a home communication network would operate. The group consisted of representatives from utilities, equipment providers, home automation device manufactures, and technology suppliers. It developed use cases, mapped them to specific devices in the home, and created messages and commands required to support Smart Energy functionality.

Once the profile was developed, it was implemented and evaluated in a series of tests during the early months of 2008, culminating in the certification of 19 ZigBee Smart Energy-compliant products in May 2008.

The process of writing, developing, and testing the specification ensures the specification can be implemented and will interoperate among different manufacturers and different devices. The group used the tests to modify and improve the specification to ensure clarity and interoperability.

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