AT&T Research is working to make the smart grid a reality.
The smart grid is the current grid with the addition of modern communications and new, inexpensive sensors and control devices. With the smart grid, utilities for the first time will have real-time information on current conditions and will be able to remotely enable demand-response requests.
AT&T is playing multiple roles, from providing the communications backbone for carrying sensor data, to enabling two-way communication between consumers and utilities.
All parts of the grid will need to communicate, and this requires standards. AT&T Research is working with NIST and other standards boards as well as manufacturer organizations to help create a reliable and secure network environment for the smart grid, with an emphasis on promoting decisions based on solid science. AT&T chairs an IEEE standards subcommittee for smart grid loads, and also contributes to ZigBee, IEEE P1901, and ITU G.hn proceedings, along with many others.
AT&T Research is particularly focused on the home, where a smart meter will enable a two-way exchange of both information and energy (in the case of homes that generate or store energy), essentially turning the home into a node on the electric grid.
A home area network (HAN) will be needed for the smart meter to communicate with smart appliances capable of reporting usage data and responding to commands. While Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Power Line Communications (PLC) are possibilities, AT&T Research is focusing on ZigBee, a new emerging standard designed to efficiently pass small amounts of data, such as a refrigerator or room temperature using very little power.
AT&T Research is also looking at how the smart grid will interact with other home systems—security, entertainment networks, home automation, and even telehealth devices, which may all compete for control. Mediation will be needed, but the best method is yet to be identified.
The next step is for Research to simulate a home environment where multiple systems to play together, and test the interactions under a variety of conditions. Well-formed decisions can be made only by understanding how these systems actually interoperate.