GridNet: a look under the Smart Grid hood

This is an interview conducted by Larry Karisny with Ray Bell, Founder and CEO of GridNet.

Search for the phrase “Smart Grid” on Google and you will get more organizations and explanations defining what it is than you may even want to know. From government policies to standards groups to organizations to new publications, everyone seems to have an opinion of what the “smart grid” is suppose to be. Wikipedia defines it as follows:

“A smart grid delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using two-way digital technology to control appliances at consumers’ homes to save energy, reduce cost and increase reliability and transparency. It overlays the electricity distribution grid with an information and net metering system.”

A company called GridNet has envisioned the smart grid as smart devices everywhere, designed to manage energy resources. They assert that there will be a connected broadband real-time, all-IP network of “smart” devices from substation infrastructure, to distribution infrastructure, and to meters exchanging information and price signals with buildings and homes equipped with distributed generation (e.g. solar PVs), energy storage, smart devices/appliances, and electric vehicles to enable utilities and their customers to optimize energy resources and consumption. So what does this all mean and is GridNet the answer to the constantly evolving architecture of the smart grid.

To get a better answer I had the opportunity to interview Ray Bell, Founder CEO of GridNet.

Q: The Smart Grid seems to mean a lot of different things to a lot of people. Can you define what it means to you?

RB: It is the seamless integration of a power grid, a communications network, and the necessary software and hardware to monitor, control, and manage effectively and efficiently how we create, distribute and consume energy in homes, offices and the transportation industry.

Q: How do you define GridNet as an organization as it relates to supporting the needs of the smart gird?

RB: Grid Net delivers the first and only Universal Smart Grid Operating System for any device and any broadband technology.

Q: The initial focus of the smart grid is on the demand side. Some people think this may be the cart before the horse. Why demand side first?

RB: Some people are focused on the demand side. We are focused on both the supply and the demand. In fact, today there are many more benefits to achieve on the supply side. The demand side is about the customer, which why many people are focused on it. It is a journey. The adoption of innovation will take time. The key elements for the solutions to choose are real-time communications (e.g. Broadband), full Internet Protocol support, and Government compliant cyber security standards. Anything less than those three, means a poor choice.

Q: Three are two thoughts on how the demand side smart grid will be run; by the power company or by the customer. Which do you think will ultimately control energy consumption and savings?

RB: We believe in an open market with multiple choices for customers by the serving utilities and independent energy services providers. Customers will need the best value and services possible while maintaining data privacy and security.

Q: GridNet partners seem to be a who’s who of smart grid industry players. How have these companies been selected and how do these companies collaborate in building the GridNet model?

RB: Our strategic investors and key partners are Intel, GE, and Cisco. In addition to them, we have partnerships with Telecom Carriers (Clear, Sprint, Seven, Austar), Software Companies (Oracle, eMeter, EMC), Original Device Manufacturers (Motorola, Samsung, Huawei, Mitsubishi, Freescale, Beceem, PowerSense), and Systems Integrators (IBM and Logica). We are very focused on top tier partners. There more to come.

Q: You have recently announced the entry of Oracle as a GridNet partner. What does this mean your organization?

RB: Together, Grid Net and Oracle Utilities have complete solutions for utility customers. The combined solution will operate on a common data model and integrate easily with Oracle Utilities products providing utilities with a wealth of information that will help them improve network performance and customer satisfaction. This partnership accelerates our go to market significantly.

Q: GridNet is being called the salvation of WiMax. What is the fit between WiMax and the Smart Grid and will this save WiMax?

RB: We believe that 4G wireless technologies deliver the capabilities and services for customers and utilities to realize the dream scenario of real-time, all-Internet Protocol, scalable, reliable, clean, and affordable energy for all. WiMax and LTE (Long Term Evolution) share very similar attributes. We support both 100%. And we also support 3G.

Q: There is a lot of concern about security when it comes to the two way interactive smart grid communications. Issues with smart meters have already confirmed security problems on the smart grid. How is GridNet planning on addressing these security concerns?

RB: Our security technology is second to none in the world. It is the only end-to-end NIST, NERC CIP, and FIPS compliant solution for the smart grid available today. Grid Net’s approach to Smart Grid security is “multi-level/multi-layer”, which is why our smart meter and smart router technology contains secure data encryption, and secure data transport via secure broadband communications networks. Moreover, we are committed to continuous standards-based innovation, to ensure that succeeding generations of our solutions will contain the latest security enhancements and improvements.

Q: With over 20 major partners, is there still a piece to the GridNet puzzle that you are still looking for?

RB: Our goal is to become the leading provider of Universal Smart Grid Operating Systems for any device and any broadband technology. Hence, we have barely begun. Stay tuned.

Q: Can you give us some predictions on where the smart grid is going and when we some of its benefits will be recognized.

RB: Broadband Smart Grids will dominate. We believe in open markets and multiple offerings for customers powered by open standards-based solutions that enable efficient and effective secure, scalable, reliable, clean and affordable smart grids.

With a lot of people going a lot of different directions and regulations and standards surrounding the smart grid, GridNet just may be the organization that will rise to the occasion by just doing it. They have the corporate clout and top industry professionals to get the job done but can the rabbit beat the tortoise. It will be interesting to watch GridNet and see if just plain corporate ingenuity can win over slow moving government and power company bureaucracy and regulation.

About the author
Larry Karisny is the Director of Project Safety.org and a consultant supporting local wireless broadband, smart grid, transportation and network security platforms. ProjectSafety Business and Technology Cluster researches and deploys leading edge standards based technologies supporting secure migration paths to current and future wireless networks and network applications.