November 23, 2011
| by Steven Castle
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has announced the formation of a new committee to advance the standardization of the Modular Communications Interface (MCI) specification to create a path for smart grid-ready products.
The MCI specification, created by the Universal Smart Network Access Port (USNAP) Alliance and based on research from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), will allow manufacturers of consumer products to build Smart Grid-ready products that can obtain energy information from digital meters and energy system interfaces regardless of the communication technology used.
USNAP enables HANs (Home Area Networks) to connect to smart meters, energy gateways or other devices within the home. USNAP utilizes a standard modular interface that enables products to be compatible with any communication network through plug-in communication modules. Numerous products are already available with USNAP capability, and the recently announced Zonoff Z-Wave Bridge Platform uses USNAP and EPRI standards to allow home networks using wireless Z-Wave products to communicate with other communications technologies like ZigBee, which is used in many smart meters. Z-Wave products such as wireless thermostats and plug-in modules are being deployed in entry-level home connectivity/security/energy management systems by large service providers like ADT, Comcast, Verizon, Vivint, Alarm.com and likely AT&T.
“This new specification addresses a significant gap in the Smart Grid for a unifying technology that enables a range of consumer products to respond to demand response events,” said Brian Seal, technical executive for EPRI.
“This committee is designed to accelerate the adoption and growth of Smart Grid ready products,” said Brian Markwalter, senior vice president of research and standards for the Consumer Electronics Association. “We’re eager to build on the significant efforts of USNAP and EPRI to create this standard by further addressing the needs of manufacturers, utilities, service providers and consumers alike.”
At the request of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), independent modular interface initiatives from the USNAP Alliance and EPRI were merged into a unified specification that identifies the interface between a Universal Communication Module (UCM) and a Smart Grid Device (SGD). A NIST working group completed the MCI specification, and it was formally submitted to CEA to facilitate creation of the standards development project.
“Consumers benefit from the selection of Smart Grid ready products that can be used anywhere in the country,” said Jon Rappaport, chairman of the USNAP Alliance. “Manufacturers benefit because they can build standardized products capable of working in any service territory. Utilities benefit because this specification reduces the risk of stranded assets.”
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates