Cisco seeks smart grid partners

Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) is looking for more partners for its Smart Grid Ecosystem who could help develop software and install systems that monitor energy use in buildings and connect systems using various networking protocols.

“I anticipate over the next five to 10 years we will create thousands of partners who will create thousands of applications and ideas,” said Wim Elfrink, executive vice-president and chief globalization officer for San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco.

He made his remarks during a press conference Thursday with the City of Vancouver and Pulse Energy Inc., a Vancouver software developer.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said the city has signed a memorandum of understanding with Cisco and Pulse Energy to install Pulse’s software with Cisco’s Network Building Mediator in city-owned buildings.

The memorandum of understanding, announced Thursday at Expo 2010 in Shanghai, is a broad agreement that includes studies and trials using hardware and software to monitor electricity use in buildings.

Elfrink said different devices in buildings use different network protocols. With Network Building Mediator, he said, Cisco can “IP enable” the devices and “make them visible.”

The companies did not disclose the projected cost, but Robertson said he expects the money the city saves by reducing electricity use will be greater than the cost of the products it buys.

Robertson said he does not anticipate there will be a “direct cost” to the city, other than on salaries for staff involved in planning and implementing the project.

“We will have the Cisco Network Building Mediator combined with Pulse Software to manage energy consumption in several buildings, including City Hall,” he said during a press conference. “The goal is to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020. Going green is not just good for the environment. It’s good for business.”

Elfrink and Robertson, along with other executives from Cisco and Pulse, spoke to journalists and analysts using Cisco’s Telepresence and Webex systems. Robertson was linked in from Shanghai, while Elfrink spoke from Amsterdam and Cisco Canada president Nitin Kawale spoke from the company’s own Telepresence room in Toronto.

Kawale said the first phase of the project will entail planning, design and implementation.

“We will do exploratory consultations with the City, Pulse and Cisco,” he said, adding the parties will “explore potential operating models.”

The second phase will include pilot projects using two Cisco products.

Network Building Mediator, which is essentially a switch with a 266 GHz microprocessor plus various USB, Ethernet, RS-232 and RS-485 ports, is designed to collect data from IT systems and other devices that consume power and translate information between the various protocols used by the plethora of appliances you would find in an office building.

Pulse Energy provides software designed to collect information from building systems and power meters. The Pulse Benchmark software compares energy consumption between buildings using measures such as energy consumption per unit area, during different times of the day, month or year.

The deal reflects well on the City of Vancouver, said Jon Arnold, a Toronto-based telecommunications analyst.

“If they can serve as a template for how to make smart grid pay off, that’s great,” he said, but added building automation firms such as Honeywell International Inc. and Johnson Controls Inc. already provide ways of controlling energy use.

“When they’re talking about saving money on these kinds of things, the building automation sector has been doing stuff like this for a million years,” he said.

In addition to Cisco Network Building Mediator, the City of Vancouver also plans to install Cisco Home Energy Controller in some homes as part of a trial.

Elfrink said he uses Home Energy Controller in his house to plot heat consumption on to a floor plan and show how his family expends energy.

“Currently in the home you have a meter somewhere but as a family you have no visibility” on power use, he said. “When the kids go to school in the morning, we can say,’ Hey, you forgot to turn the lights off.'”

Elfrink said Cisco plans to come up with “additional certifications” both for individual IT professionals and for channel partners.

Cisco earlier this year announced its Smart Grid Ecosystem, which includes several partners in IT consulting, wireless, security and power management.

Major members include Accenture, Capgemini, Infosys and Telegent.

“That list is going to grow dramatically,” he said.

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