U-Snap big

The issue of home area network (HAN) to meter connectivity has been holding back the HAN device manufacturer community due to the sheer number of protocol options. An industry initiative called the U-SNAP Alliance is forging ahead with a practical solution to the interoperability problem.

Rather than forging ahead with yet another industry protocol, the U-SNAP Alliance is promoting a solution commonly used in the computer industry – a low cost connector. The U-SNAP approach will allow virtually any “energy aware” device to communicate with any smart meter using any communication protocol.

The device, called the Utility Smart Network Access Port (U-SNAP), consists of two components: a standard connector that easily integrates with a wide variety of appliances, thermostats, in-home displays, gateways, pool pump controllers, and plug-in vehicles; and an inexpensive circuit board that plugs into the connector and contains the specific type of radio used by the home’s smart meter. U-SNAP currently supports ZigBee, Z-wave, WiFi, RDS, and FlexNet protocols. The group recognises the need to support power line communication protocols and intends to work closely with industry suppliers.

By allowing end-use devices to participate in any home area network, U-SNAP simultaneously addresses a vexing problem faced by utilities, end-use device manufacturers, and consumers alike: the multiplicity of communications protocols adopted by smart meter manufacturers.

For utilities, a common concern is the possibility of seeing a large and expensive deployment of smart meters become obsolete as technology advances or the market simply moves in a different direction.

For manufacturers, the issue is the additional cost and risk inherent in the need to design and manufacture different models of the same device for each supported HAN protocol. And consumers who wish to participate in load control or price responsive demand programmes could be concerned about purchasing “smart” appliances that would lose their energy intelligence if the consumer relocated to a different service area.

The first U-SNAP compliant products will be thermostats available in retail stores in the second half of this year. Based on utility and retail interest, U-SNAP representatives are confident that over 1 million units will ship this year.

The Alliance is actively seeking utility and vendor participation to ensure that industry interests are broadly represented. For more information visit www.usnap.org