The Next Smart, Green Grid Tech: WiMax

Includes: GE, INTC
by: Greentech Media

By Michael Kanellos

Utilities have already begun to adopt wireless technologies like WiFi, ZigBee, Z-Wave and some proprietary protocols as a way to curb power consumption.

Next, you’re going to see WiMax make a bigger splash in greentech, a well-connected source in the electronics world told me. Expect to see companies fleshing out WiMax energy efficiency strategies in the relatively near future and some start-up activity. Grid Net is already touting WiMax and is collaborating with Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and General Electric (NYSE:GE).

WiMax, for those of you that haven’t been in an airport in two years and thus haven’t had to relieve your boredom by buying a copy of BusinessWeek, is a long range, high-bandwidth wireless data protocol that can handle large numbers of users at once. It’s like having fiber in the sky. Intel, Google (GGOG), Clearwire (CLWR), Sprint (NYSE:S) and others have collectively invested billions into getting WiMax off the ground.

Pakistan and a few other countries are rolling out plans for nationwide WiMax coverage.

Unfortunately, WiMax is in some ways entering a saturated market. WiFi and broadband links are a lot easier to find in Europe and America than they once were.

Enter the energy crisis. Electricity rates are rising and utilities want to invest in technologies that will let them reduce the power going to air conditioners, lights and other devices to avoid brownouts. Consumers in turn get a discount. Utilities have only just begun to go down this road; thus, potentially a greater opportunity exists for smart grid than data services. It has become one of the hottest investment categories in greentech.

WiMax is in many ways idea for smart grids. A WiMax station could receive information on electricity, water and gas consumption from several homes or neighborhood network nodes and then relay it to base stations or utitlities.

Although utilities have experimented with ways to transmit data over power lines, there seems to be a lot more buzz and experimentation around wireless, particularly in the U.S.

You can also start to better see how these technologies layer upon each other. In the home, we will likely see ZigBee or WiFi connecting appliances to a home base station. Technology for wiring the home will come from a lot of vendors: Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), Tendril, GainSpan, Threshold, etc. The base stations will then connect to the meters at home and send messages to neighborhood network nodes from companies like SilverSpring Networks. In turn, the SilverSpring nodes may then link up to a WiMax box powered by stuff from Intel.