Friday, December 17, 2010

Smart Grid - The Next Platform for Software Development

Smart meter

Apple has led us into the world of platforms and app stores. Seven years ago, who would have thought of a cellular phone as a software development platform? And yet, we know now that these new platforms are absolutely the future of consumer-oriented and enterprise software (as we've discussed on this blog). No vendor can introduce a new electronic device without all of us asking "Do you have an SDK (software development kit)?" You'd better. Amazon introduced the Kindle e-book reader a few years ago and developers complained until Amazon created a platform for custom apps on the Kindle. Ford and Microsoft build a complete driver-support system for Ford vehicles called Ford Sync. "Can I build an app for that?" Turns out you can.

It is exciting enough to envision everything we'll be able to create on these platforms that already exist. That's what my last blog post was about. But what are the platforms yet to arrive??? The biggest one on my horizon is the smart grid. The smart grid is an electricity grid that is soaked in information technology. Instead of today's grid, which simply transmits electrical current one-way with no information, the smart grid contains nodes that can talk with one another. Each power meter becomes a smart meter. Each appliance in your house (fridge, stove, television) becomes a smart appliance.

And guess what??? Each meter and appliance becomes a platform. Where you can run apps!

I'm just sitting here imagining a future conversation between two home owners.

"I just downloaded an app for my fridge. I've only been using it for 3 days but it has already been saving me $5 a day in energy costs!"

"Oh yeah? Was the app created by the fridge company?"

"Heck no. Probably done by two guys in a garage somewhere."

Everything that's happening on our phones today will start happening in our cars and our houses. Why not? We couldn't sit around waiting for AT&T or Blackberry/RIM to innovate? Let somebody else move technology ahead.

Smart meters are a reality in more and more places. Westerville, the city where I live, has been implementing them. Astoundingly, the effort has been stalled (for now) by technology luddites questioning the value of them. The luddite issue will be a tough one all across the U.S. until people are sufficiently educated on the technology.

Predictably, Google is already at the forefront of this not-yet-an-industry. They've built Google Power Meter, an open source information hub that talks to smart meters. Open standards will be important, and companies are getting behind an open standard protocol called Open Smart Grid Protocol that will allow devices/nodes to speak to each other. They've said that Google employees who've started using it have noticed a 17% decrease in personal energy costs just by virtue of knowing what power they're consuming and when. Imagine what they could do with app stores full of power-saving apps!!

(Photo courtesy

No comments: