Smart-grid rollouts are either imminent or already taking root across the globe. In terms of what communications standards, infrastructure, etc. will be used to enable the smart grid, however, a "model" has not yet been fully defined. Although proprietary solutions are still being reviewed, wireless technologies like ZigBee and cellular networks also may have a role. At last month's CTIA, for example, Verizon Wireless and Consert, Inc. announced an energy-management solution for utility customers. It runs on Verizon's third-generation (3G) wireless network.

The Consert Energy Management Solution enables utilities to create and load resources for peak and intermediate periods. The solution also allows them to improve demand forecasting while facilitating compliance with federal and state standards. In addition, Consert's solution helps to automate meter reading and improve communications with end users (see figure).

Running on the Verizon Wireless network, this solution has four main components. First, a smart residence or small commercial entity is created. Intelligent measurement and control devices are therefore installed on energy-consuming devices, such as HVACs, water heaters, and commercial signage. Those devices wirelessly connect to the Consert Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO)-based cellular gateway, which is the local processing and communications hub.

The solution's second aspect is the consumer portal. This secure, online portal allows residential and small-business customers to create dynamic profiles. They can then manage their daily, weekly, or monthly energy consumption to accommodate their comfort levels and lifestyle needs while saving energy and the environment.

In contrast, the utility portal is a customizable online portal that enables utilities to view customer energy-consumption information in real time. They also can conduct control events to shed load or aggregate renewable resources and gain access to additional capacity through Consert's Virtual Peak Plant.

Of course, the final aspect of this solution is the Verizon Wireless network, which enables and manages the machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. In fact, Consert points to its ability to securely aggregate and transport data in real time from consumers to its data center (where it can be accessed by partnering utility companies) as a key differentiator in its approach.

Verizon Wireless and Consert have completed two pilot runs with North Carolina-based Fayetteville Public Works Commission (FPWC) and Wake Electric Membership Corp. (WEMC). In its trial of Consert's Energy Management Solution, WEMC participants gained energy savings ranging from 7 to 54 percent. Average savings was 19 percent. Trial participants received a home-energy monitor, which measured and verified energy savings while collecting data that would aid the creation of a more efficient grid.

Due to the success of both pilots, FPWC and WEMC are finalizing plans to extend the Consert solution throughout their service areas. Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless and Consert are working to future-proof the solution. Development has already begun on an option that will work on Verizon Wireless' recently launched, fourth-generation (4G) LTE wireless network.