PLC通信（Power Line Communications)向けのSoC（System on a Chip)ベンダーである、Watteco社のCEO、Didier Boivin氏とのインタビュー。
In this series, we will be talking to SoC chip vendors whose technologies address very specific challenges in the Smart Grid arena and are, in fact, defining what the potential of grid intelligence really is. Readers who are not familiar with these systems might not realize how much of the end products, whether they are Smart Meters, IEDs or other Smart Objects, are actually pre-defined as part of the SoC they are based on. This is why these vendors play such an important role in this market. Any chipset vendors who are not addressing specific challenges or bringing real and unique functionality to the table, will ultimately perish away in a fiercely competitive marketplace.
Our first interview is with Didier Boivin, vice president of marketing for Watteco, a vendor of SoC systems for PLC communications. What sets it apart from many other PLC solutions is the efficiency and ease its systems interface with wireless 802.15.4 solutions. Watteco is also one of the pioneers of bringing IP to 802.15.4 and breaking the barriers imposed by proprietary HAN standards.
Shidan Gouran: Watteco is a pioneer in bringing IP to low bandwidth and low power networks including power line and wireless sensor communications. In fact, you were the first company that I know of, to commercially release an IPv6 over 802.15.4 or “6LoWPAN” system on a chip solution. Now we see a real push by the industry, including major vendors like Cisco andIBM ( News – Alert), to bring IP to all segments of the Smart Grid, inlcuding moving the home area network (HAN) to IP. The momentum for IP is so strong that even (to their credit) the ZigBee Alliance is in the process of redefining the Zigbee “Smart Energy” profile as a 6LoWPAN application layer protocol. Has all of this led to the home side of the meter becoming a viable market for you as well?
Didier Boivin: The “within the home” market continues to be a strong focus area for Watteco. One example of how Watteco’s technology could be used here is in Advanced Metering infrastructure (AMI), also called smart meters, as well as in-home gateway types of products to enable deployment of Command and Control solutions. These devices will allow load-shedding for all equipment within the house, as well as solar panel monitoring solutions that leverage the power of IP protocols to help consumers cut their energy bills while reducing on-site utility inspections. They will also enable digital outage tracking. Watteco’s technology is critical for these applications because of its low power consumption — just one hundredth of the real power requirements of alternative Powerline Communication (PLC). Watteco technology’s reduced power requirements, combined with the use of key Internet Protocol (IP) protocols, makes it very easy to develop and deploy small, low-power consumer devices in the home. Other consumer applications of the technology include home command and control systems that handle functions such as lighting, shutters/blinds and alarm and access.
SG: Why is it important to have an end to end IP solution for the Smart Grid, including the HAN?
DB: End-to-end IP solutions for the Smart Grid, including the HAN, are critical for a complete electricity system communications fabric — from electrical generation and distribution to business and the home— based on Internet Protocol (IP) standards. The goal is for any device to be able to talk to any other device at any location — in the home, at the meter, at the substation, or in the grid and also for the user to be able to access these devices in his/her house at any time. Integrating solutions such as our “smart plug” and leveraging our WPC-IP product for integration into Command and Control Smart Energy systems improves compatibility with other open standards, facilitates integration with 6LoWPAN and other IP networks, and increases coverage as compared to alternative solutions that don’t support the same breadth of industry-standard wired and wireless networking protocols.
SG: The Smart Object chip market will some day be at least as large as the number of grid connected devices. Looking to the near future, to your knowledge, what is the market potential of Smart Homes in the next 3 to 5 years?
In terms of AMI/smart meter deployment, Europe, North America and Asia are all growing, although they are following different paths. Many governments are mandating that utilities deploy only “smart meters” in the future. Altogether, the total market for smart grid types of devices that are integrated into In-Home Smart Grid and Home Control systems is expected to be more than 600 million devices in 2012.ABI Research ( News
) has said that, “two new approaches to home automation – ‘mainstream’ systems based on standardized technologies and packaged components, and home automation as a managed service offered through a broadband or wireless service provider – have the potential for such broad market appeal that new research forecasts shipments to grow more than 50-fold between 2007 and 2013.”
SG: In the next 3 to 5 years, going even beyond 802.15.4, what will the specs for a typical microsensor in terms of bandwidth, power consumption and processing power?
DB: The only way that the promise of Smart Grid can be fully realized is for the core “Smart Plug” technology to reach capabilities of a few hundred kilobits per second, consuming several tens of milliwatts of power, in a footprint that’s less than a few square centimeters. Processing power will be optimized through an application-specific system-on-a-chip approach that leverages multiple processor cores and companion task accelerators. Optimizing processing power efficiency will be more important than optimizing processing in next-generation SoCs.
SG: The truth is that SoCs for LoWPANs, even though a nascent industry today, will be a very crowded market with many big players and will serve the mass market. I personally think that any SoC vendor who wants to compete in this space will need to be sufficiently large where a pure commodity hardware play makes sense or bring intellectual property to the table with a unique and holistic advantage. Since Watteco is a startup company, what is the core IP that differentiates you from other SoC vendors when we look at Smart Grid communications from a general holistic perspective?
You are right that a large mass market will bring big suppliers into play, but we believe that our patented non-inductive coupling technology gives us a significant advantage in the industry, and will be a key enabler for Smart Grid deployment, worldwide. Traditional approaches inject energy for carrying data, but Watteco’s unique technology (Called WPC) uses resonance frequencies of the grid to communicate with electromagnetic pulses. Watteco devices create a high-level, low-energy pulses that is fully compliant withEMC ( News
) regulations, and this pulse’s magnitude can be significantly higher than the surrounding noise, even after propagation, ensuring a very robust communications signal.
Unlike other PLC technologies, Watteco’s WPC technology does not use any complex analog front-end and inductive coupler to the power line. As a result, the communication stream can be significantly optimized. The elimination of major analog components reduces bill of material cost, and size is also reduced. Lastly, since there is no inductive coupling, power consumption is extremely low. Communications between WPC devices can be accomplished on a single- or multi-phase low voltage (110V/220V) electrical wire (50Hz/60Hz) at a 10kbit/s rate.
SG: As a successfull European startup looking to expand into North America. Can you share some insight into how the Smart Grid ecosystem and general industry climate is different in these two continent?.
DB: In terms of AMI/smart meter deployment, Europe and North America are following very different paths, as is Asia, as well. Many governments are mandating that utilities deploy only “smart meters” in the future. For instance, the European Union has mandated that, 2022, all installed meters must be smart meters (part of the “20-20-20” initiative – 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions, 20 percent increase in renewable energy, 20 percent increase in energy efficiency).
In North America, growth has been slower, notably due to the multiplicity of different power utilities, but the Obama administration stimulus plan is accelerating installations through a smart meter deployment mandate driven by the NIST at the Department of Energy. In Asia, Smart meter installations will be driven by China, which has made them an essential part of a green-economy focused stimulus plan that is focused on PLC technology. China has been talking about smart meter installations of a few hundred million by 2015. Japan and Australia have deployments underway, India is doing some trials that could lead to massive deployments, and other countries, such as Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand, are exploring ways to encourage installations.
Beyond smart meters, there also is a strong push in the aforementioned countries to look at “in home” solutions that can complement the deployment of smart meters, and/or leverage the existing communications infrastructure. As mentioned earlier, those solutions will leverage various technologies but when it comes to the “in home” devices, the two most important technologies will be very low-power powerline and wireless.
SG: Apart from building automation and the Smart Grid, what are the other opportunities you see for wilreless micro sensors.
DB: Watteco’s focus is more on powerline communication than on wireless connectivity, even if we are leveraging some of the wireless protocols to facilitate the integration of our technology into any IP network. “In-home” connectivity demands that we use both technologies for any deployment of smart objects. Therefore, we see tremendous opportunities for devices that support both wired and wireless IP-based Smart Grid connectivity. It is critical for next-generation technology to support – or offer a way to support — both wired and wireless approaches. In addition to Smart Grid and Home Control applications, there are opportunities for low-cost, ultra-low-power, small-profile devices in photovoltaic field management for solar panels, and in street lighting management, for which the total addressable market for devices could grow to 18 million in 2012.
Learn more about Smart Grid technology at theSmart Grid Summit, an event collocated with ITEXPO East 2010, to be held Jan. 20 to 22 in Miami. This is the event you need to attend if you want to understand the role that IP communications technologies will play in how the Smart Grid evolves – not just for making utilities more efficient, but also for enabling the Smart Home and a new generation of communications innovations. Register now.
Shidan Gouran is co-founder of Intelligent Communications Partners (News – Alert) (ICP), a strategic advisory consultancy focused on the emerging Smart Grid opportunity. To read more of his Smart Grid articles, please visit his columnist page.