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US utilities plot remote switch off

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HomePlug, the networking standard for sending data over mains wires, is to implement ZigBee's Smart Energy protocol, allowing utilities to reach out and the thermostat turn down, or up, when power is short.

An array of US utility companies is pushing the initiative, which sees HomePlug extending ZigBee Smart Energy to work over electrical mains wiring and integrating with ZigBee-based devices. The standard allows utilities to reach out and control non-critical devices when needed, such as pool pumps, thermostats and water heaters.

HomePlug has thus far been about connecting computer networks together, but its backers clearly have aspirations beyond mundane networking. However, HomePlug's adoption as an IEEE standard has become mired in the Institute's majority voting system, despite a lack of significant competition.

"This initiative will provide seamless application integration using ZigBee or HomePlug devices", said Paul De Martini, vice president at Southern California Edison. "Mainstream market adoption of a common technology accelerates our ability to empower our customers to manage their energy usage."

Having the technology to control customers' electronics is one thing, but getting them to let you will be another - utilities are going to have to find some serious incentives before punters will let them turn off the water heating whenever they like. ®

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