Let's talk: Wireless smart grid communications options will expand in 2010

Smart-grid wireless options expand with addition of spread-spectrum player On-Ramp Wireless, part of a San Diego pilot.

Been keeping my eye this year on companies working on communications infrastructure that could crucial in deploying smart grid projects in geographically challenging places. Earlier this year, for example, metering equipment company Trilliant bought SkyPilot Networks, which makes WiFi mesh technology. Last month, the Wi-Fi Alliance organization started up a task group to study its role. WiMax will also be a factor, with companies like Grid Net integrating support into their smart grid solutions.

On-Ramp Wireless is another company working on the problem with an Ultra-Link Processing wireless system based on spread-spectrum principles and purpose-built to handle the job at the metro level.

On-Ramp Wireless CEO Joaquin Silva says his company's technology is ideal for handling weak signals covering large cities. Adequate wireless coverage is especially difficult when you're applying smart grid sensors to water systems, because of the scale and because of the physical conditions associated with where the sensors live. One of the biggest problems with tracking water, he says, is finding leaks: More than 30 percent of municipal water today is wasted because of this problem, he says. Silva suggests that other wireless alternatives have density and power requirements that are too high to act as great smart grid alternatives. He also suggests that they are too expensive.

Ultra-Link, on the other hand, claims a range that is substantially larger than other options, and it is built to pick out signals amongst all the other wireless noise that we and our gadgets are creating. It can cover most metro areas with between just 10 to 20 access points.

On-Ramp Wireless is part of a smart grid test with Sempra Energy in San Diego County, which spans 3 million residents, 1.1 million homes and an estimated 9.6 million devices -- from street and campus lights, to irrigation management systems, to electric, gas and water meters.

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