Lots of attention is paid to the role of wireless communications devices in the smart grid and smart energy systems build-out, but the dark horse of this movement could be technology that uses the electrical wires living inside your walls to communicate relevant usage metrics.
That's the position of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, a group of companies that advocates the use of electrical wires to create "reliable" home networking and smart grid applications. HomePlug has about 75 member companies, including the likes of Cisco, Comcast, GE Energy, Intel, Motorola, and Texas Instruments.
Specifications being worked on by the HomePlug organization are part of the draft standard recently approved by the IEEE p1901 Working Group, which is focused on enabling broadcast communications over powerline infrastructure. The work being done by this group will declare itself in products for retail home networking and IP television, but increasingly the IEEE p1901 working group is looking to establish closer ties with the P2030 Working Group on Smart Grid interoperability, says Rob Ranck, president of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. The video referenced in this link has more information about what's going on with that working group.
Ranck says powerline broadband communications will be important for smart grid applications in places such as multi-apartment dwellings, where there is a higher potential for wireless communications conflict, or in large homes that can't be covered completely by one wireless network. Meters could be associated to different apartments through powerlines, instead.
So, don't think of powerline as replacing the wireless component of smart-grid deployments, think of it as an extension. "It's a natural fit for the whole green energy movement. After all, many of the devices you are trying to measure are plugged into powerlines," Ranck notes.
Incidentally, do not write off powerline broadband as simply a consumer issue. As businesses increasingly outfit their employees with the ability to work remotely and seamlessly, powerline technology is definitely a trend to watch.