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In recent weeks many utilities have announced major deals with third-party developers of smart grid software.  One that hasn’t made such an announcement is Pacific Gas & Electric.  Andy Tang, senior director of the Smart Energy Web at PG&E spoke with Reuters this week about why the company has not chosen a third-party developer.

Tang said that the giant California utility’s strategy is to wait for the Open Smart Grid group to come up with a standard interface for energy management software before it decides to sign up for Google’s PowerMeter, Microsoft’s Hohm, or similar offerings from other companies.

“I don’t want to pick winners,” said Tang.  “I want to work on more of a neutral ground.”  Tang went on to explain that with the numerous development firms and their various options for energy management, PG&E is hesitant to pick one unless the integration is seamless and processes involved are standardised.  Tang said that PG&E isn’t going to develop software for third parties because the utility lacks those resources.

The Open Smart Grid group’s members include diverse utilities and third-party vendors and serves as a clearinghouse for best practices and industry standards.  Eventually the participating members will incorporate the group’s standards into their software development.

Internet protocol – the standard for Web communications – have long been standardised but Tang says that the realm of energy management requires much more.  “When you dig into the details, there’s still a lot of work to do,” he said.  It might not be very difficult to integrate a particular vendor’s software into PG&E’s back office systems but the utility wants to be able to do so without becoming “locked in” with a particular vendor.

Other utilities have lacked this foresight and have become locked in with vendors only to find out that their software is quickly outdated.  PG&E even signed up multiple smart meter manufacturers so it wouldn’t be locked in with a hardware maker either.  The utility wants to have the most compelling management tools available for its customers.

Google and Microsoft have been working with open standards for a long time and won’t have a problem with PG&E’s requirements.  Other utilities and Web companies work from a different perspective but will certainly adhere to a standard interface as a way of guarding against the chance an expensive system would become obsolete after only a year or two.

Tang says that ultimately the point is that standardisation allows for PG&E to work closely with a third-party vendor to develop user interfaces.  “If we’re doing this on more of a neutral stance, the innovation can be a lot bigger,” he said.

Pacific Gas & Electric
PO Box 56
Avila Beach, CA 93424-0056

1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052-7329
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