Cisco targets smart grid; bolsters Connected Grid portfolio with new energy management tools

Utilities, consumers, and businesses take note: Cisco has its laser sights on the smart grid, and it's coming to a display panel near you.

Utilities, consumers, and businesses take note: Cisco has its laser sights on the smart grid, and it's coming to a display panel near you.

The company on Tuesday unveiled new additions to its Connected Grid portfolio of energy management tools, including packages for both corporate facilities and the home.

For the home, the company introduced a new controller and services for energy management. At $900, the bundle is intended for utilities to offer to consumers to help them understand and manage their energy use.

For the enterprise, the company introduced a cloud-based platform that allows for centralized management of facilities across the globe, linking building automation systems together over Internet Protocol for global visibility of energy flow.

In a world imagined by Cisco, energy management is an end-to-end, open standards-based communications platform layered on top of a connected infrastructure.

For the home, that translates to a countertop touchscreen display -- its new CGH-100 Home Energy Controller -- which allows a homeowner to set rules for energy use. The device displays real time and historical data, and allows you to drill down to individual appliance consumption.

It's intended to be connected to thermostats, smart sockets and eventually intelligent appliances (think water heaters and refrigerators) via several networking protocols, including ZigBee, Wi-Fi and Encoder Receiver Technology, or ERT.

The hope is that the knowledge will allow consumers and utilities to take advantage of pricing (such as lower night-time rates) and pursue the holy grail of energy management: home automation.

According to some research, that's a real possibility. Consumers reduce energy use by 4 to 15 percent when they receive real-time feedback on power consumption, according to IDC.

Cisco's new services are also a step toward that goal. The platform allows utilities to manage data from thousands of homes while working together with existing back-end applications.

One utility, Duke Energy, is already on board to deploy the technology to customers in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky when it becomes available this summer. FP&L, Enel and Yello Strom are also conducting pilot projects.

On the corporate side, Cisco brings that connectivity to the large scale. Its new Network Building Mediator Manager 6300 allows a company to connect, monitor, aggregate and centrally manage buildings across the globe over an IP network.

The manager allows for an enterprise-wide view as well as visibility into specific systems such as HVAC, lighting and metering, and includes centralized event management.

For corporations, the appeal is not just reduced energy consumption, but increased operational efficiency and the added benefit of alerts for preventive maintenance of critical equipment.

"Business energy requirements in commercial buildings represent a large percentage of the world's overall energy consumption," said Sandeep Vij, general manager of the company's Converged Building Systems group. "Providing management, facilities and IT teams with clear, real-time visibility into the impact of energy flows is a first step toward managing buildings in a more intelligent way."

Will Cisco succeed in a crowded market? It's unclear, but there's no denying that the IT giant has some weight to throw around.

On the home front, Cisco is mostly known as the parent company of popular router maker Linksys. It says its new home energy controller is simple and easy to use.

On the corporate front, Cisco insists its building automation systems offering is more flexible and scales further than those offered by Johnson Control, Honeywell and Siemens.

At stake: a smart buildings market worth $36 billion by 2015, according to ABI research.

In May, Cisco smart grid SVP Laura Ipsen said that the smart grid that the smart grid would grow to be bigger than the Internet.

Can Cisco dominate connected buildings as thoroughly as it has dominated connected computers?

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