One crucial aspect that sets advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) apart from automated meter reading (AMR) is two-way communications between the utility and residences. That level of communication is intended, in part, to help all consumers participate in energy management and efficiency programs. But how does that two-way communication reach beyond the electricity meter and into a consumer’s home?

Several standard technologies exist that consumers are familiar with in their home. Two that consumers are most familiar with over the last decade are Wi-Fi and broadband over cable. These technologies are well suited to carry huge amounts of audio and visual data, but are far more powerful and expensive than what is needed for utility communications at any individual residence – regardless of home size.

Another technology reaching consumers in their home and finding great acceptance in the energy industry is ZigBee® wireless networking. ZigBee is a global wireless language that connects different, often everyday devices to work together. It is built on top of the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless networking standard, in much the same way that Wi-Fi is built on the IEEE 802.11 standard. The core benefit of ZigBee is that it is designed for situations that need to communicate small amounts of data while using less energy to transmit that data.

ZigBee supports energy management and efficiency mainly by connecting a utility to an in-home network typically comprised of ZigBee-enabled devices, including appliances, thermostats, water heaters, pool pumps, and more. This network of ZigBee devices is easy to connect and allows users to customize and monitor their energy consumption in an environment where devices communicate to each other and can connect to the outside world to enable remote access and control either by the utility, a third-party service provider or the customer.

As a global, open standard, ZigBee enables interoperability between numerous devices. Open standards like ZigBee provide everyone in a market a common point of reference to build upon. This way, utilities and consumers gain a competitive marketplace for products and services. Vendors like meter and thermostat manufacturers benefit, because open standards create a competitive semiconductor marketplace in which they can purchase wireless networking ZigBee chips, also known as ZigBee Compliant Platforms.

The ZigBee Alliance is a global ecosystem of technology companies creating wireless solutions for use in energy, home, commercial and industrial applications. ZigBee Alliance members work together to develop public application profiles for various applications to foster device interoperability, regardless of manufacturer. ZigBee certification and compliance tests ensure ZigBee solutions offer reliable and robust wireless networking.
Only ZigBee has multiple suppliers providing the core technology used in wireless solutions for home, commercial and industrial applications. Companies join the ZigBee alliance for access to the best intellectual property for their products. The ZigBee Alliance is five years old and has 250 member companies.

The Alliance and its members continue to deliver energy management and efficiency solutions. In November, the alliance released its ZigBee Home Automation public application profile. Completion of ZigBee Home Automation paved the way for a rapid completion of a planned profile for advanced metering and energy management. Last month, an array of vendors gathered in San Diego to test the interoperability of their devices running this new profile, to be known as the ZigBee Smart Energy profile.