The “smart metering” that communicates electric, gas or water usage data over a network to the providing utility is making inroads in some markets, but a further evolution of these technologies into “Home Area Networks” (HAN) will allow utilities greater management efficiencies while providing customers with choices about their consumption. Several technologies are vying for a place at the HAN table.

“We believe that in an area of rising energy costs, the Home Area Network model—and its most sophisticated outgrowth, the Energy Management System—will eventually see wide deployment,” says ABI research senior analyst Sam Lucero.

The HAN is an extension of smart metering intelligence into the home itself, connecting the meter to “load centers”: major power consuming devices such as “smart thermostats,” air conditioners and washer/dryers. While a few utilities today manage peak demand by directly capping these load centers’ usage, a HAN system would allow the homeowner to specify a mix of consumption and efficiency across a range of devices.

Four technologies have potential here: three wireless standards, ZigBee and Z-wave (both already used for automation) and the new 61oWPAN; and HomePlug Command and Control (HPCC), which communicates data over the building’s electrical wiring.

“ZigBee is seen as the most likely candidate for HAN success,” says Lucero. “It enjoys wide support from utilities. The ZigBee Alliance has been focused on smart metering.” Z-Wave also has support in the home automation market, especially in North America and Europe. Lucero terms 61oWPAN the “dark horse.” Technically it has much to recommend it, but is quite new and relatively untried. HPCC offers the advantage of using the same power lines that feed the load centers themselves, but is thus restricted to serving wired devices only.

“HANs are deployed in only small numbers today,” Lucero concludes, “but most utilities have plans in this direction and we expect a large incremental ramp-up: first smart meters with HAN capabilities, then the addition of one or more load centers and finally the Energy Management System.”

ABI Research’s recent report, “Advanced Metering Infrastructure,” analyzes the market opportunity for smart metering, including the important subset of this market termed home area network (HAN) on a worldwide basis, providing five-year forecasts for the components and elements of smart metering and HAN infrastructure.