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More smart grid standardization work

Almost a year ago we took a look at smart grid technology. One of the obvious things that emerged when looking at how smart grids are evolving is the fact that it’s very fractured: each country or region has its own way of doing things. There may well be overlap, but that’s not necessarily due to strategic collaboration; sometimes it just happens.

So it was with interest that I saw that CEVA announced approval by the Israeli Chief Scientist (who knew that countries had CTOs!) of a consortium for standardizing various smart-grid-related technologies. I checked with CEVA to see what the scope is: is this another regional effort or is there some global work ongoing? The fact that an Israeli government functionary was giving a blessing made it feel very much like an Israel-only thing.

Turns out that it is an Israel-only effort, with all participating companies and academic institutions being Israeli, partially funded by government dollars – which can’t go to non-Israeli companies. There are some non-Israeli observers: IBM has expressed interest in observing, for example. Their ideas will be demonstrated on a local pilot grid run by the local utility (IEC).

But they have global designs – specifically, CEVA said it’s “an Israeli consortium with global focus,” meaning that whatever comes out of the consortium will join the competition for ideas around the world. That’s not quite the same as a global harmonization effort, although, if more good ideas are thrown on the pile, that’s a good thing – as long as it’s quality of ideas and not parochialism and entrenched interest that drive decisions globally. And, as they point out, the Israeli market itself is small, so it’s really the rest of the world that drives the ROI on this effort. And all of the participating companies sell globally.

Smart meters are of some personal interest since I happen to live in the smart-meter-hating capital of the world (I assume; I can’t imagine how any other place could hate them more). There’s an official city moratorium on them, although that clearly carries no weight, since the utility just went through and converted my neighborhood. Although I did see that they spared some meters that specifically had “do not convert” notes on them. I know one couple that has multiple padlocks on their old meter to ensure that it doesn’t get removed.

Just out of curiosity, I asked whether any of these controversial issues were in any way involved in the list of things to be addressed by the consortium. And, to be clear, the issues really boil down to two: the concern with wireless technology in general, stemming from the concern about the health effects of cell phones; and privacy concerns, given that the utility can decode many of the appliances by looking at the power signature, and that the Googles of the world are anxiously waiting to buy that data.

As I suspected, neither of those topics is on the table. Of course, the consortium concerns itself with all manner of smart grid technologies – not all of which are wireless. And, really, that whole wireless health issue has to be resolved on its own. Although, talking to some of these people, I believe that no amount of science will convince them that there’s not a problem (assuming that there isn’t one).

As to the privacy thing, CEVA acknowledged that there could be some concern, but that it ultimately wouldn’t stop progress “…mainly because the benefits of smart grid to both utilities and its customers are much greater than its faults.” Which is a bit of a “privacy is dead, get over it” approach. Then again, such privacy issues are probably more of a policy issue than a technical one – pass laws forbidding utilities from selling personally-identifiable power-use data without explicit opt-in, for example. So as long as the consortium isn’t doing anything specifically to make it easier to snoop on everyone’s intimate power use details, it’s presumably out of their domain.

More info on the consortium can be found on CEVA’s press release

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