Grid edge
U.S. market

In the age of AMI 2.0, do we still need smart panels?

Lumin is leaning on partnerships as competition from smart meters mounts.

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Photo credit: Lumin

Photo credit: Lumin

Given the potential of lower cost load control alternatives, concern has emerged that the end of the smart panel era is coming — and faster than the tech can emerge from pilot limbo.

In a report released in mid-February, Wood Mackenzie assessed the long-term viability of the tech. Deployment seems to be cooling after a buzz of utility pilots in 2021, and smart panels, the report concluded, could end up playing second fiddle to second-generation meters.

  • The top line: Smart panel makers, however, have a different take, and are doubling down on fending off the report’s dire predictions. In recent months, they’ve been partnering up with would-be competitors, expanding their business models, and accelerating their timelines.
  • The market grounding: Smart panels’ core offering is cost avoidance: enabling homes to avoid expensive upgrades, and to customize electricity demand. They ultimately enable monitoring and curtailment of power on individual circuits. But according to Wood Mackenzie’s analysis, smart panels are increasingly competing with smart meters, which are becoming platforms for edge software applications. The incremental value of smart panels compared to smart meters, the analysis concluded, is low- or near-zero when it comes to monitoring, control, and optimization.
  • The current take: Kelly Warner, CEO of smart panel maker Lumin, pushed back against the assessment that the industry may be running out of juice, and sees varying “smart” electrification technologies as complementary. “I’ve had a lot of discussions with investors about whether this solution is going to get leapfrogged by another solution,” Warner said. “If you have that mindset, you’d be sitting on the sidelines for a long time waiting for that next thing.”
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Smart panel makers might be moving quickly, but their price point remains high, and their path to scale is less clear than that of AMI 2.0, which is driven by utility needs. 

Meanwhile, the sector is increasingly looking to a new generation of AI-powered meters. That’s a movement that’s being led by NVIDIA and Utilidata, who have teamed up to create a distributed AI platform that can be attached to meters, giving utilities real-time asset data.

Ultimately, Warner said, the software behind load management solutions is the real value-add. Finding a cost-effective way to provide that to consumers is where Lumin is now focused, he added, pointing to the recent release of a smaller, cheaper, modular version of Lumin’s panel, the Lumin Edge. 

Getting that software out into the world — a world in which smart meters will host apps ranging from DER management to disaggregation — requires smart panel makers to team up with other grid edge companies, Warner said.

“We decided a while back, the best way for us to scale up this solution is through partnerships with large OEMs or suppliers who have customers,” he explained. That’s compared to some of Lumin’s competitors, he said, who have looked to acquire other home electrification components like inverters and batteries to complement their management systems.

Lumin, for its part, will remain solely focused on delivering a load management system, he added, pointing to partnerships with companies like Sunnova, which in January agreed to make Lumin panels available through its dealer network.

Other partnerships in the works will essentially “white label” Lumin’s product, Warner said, moving Lumin into markets it couldn’t access on its own. With Lumin Edge, he said, the company is in the midst of a “pre-release” with a handful of utility partners who will be first to deploy.

Lumin is far from alone in its partnership strategy: earlier this week Span announced a partnership with smart meter maker Landis+Gyr to offer a joint product targeting “circuit-level billing-grade metering, DER visibility, and controls.”

Ben Hertz-Shargel, global head of grid edge at Wood Mackenzie, said the partnerships are an acknowledgement of the current commercial landscape: Lumin Edge nods to the need for a lower-cost solution, particularly for utility demand response programs for customers without batteries, while Span offers a way for Landis+Gyr to expand its smart meter scope from monitoring to home energy management.

“It remains the case, however, that cutting the power to appliances is not a viable approach to load control in the long term,” Hertz-Shargel told Latitude Media. The path forward for smart panels, he said, is to get ahead on device integrations before AMI providers do — communicating directly with appliances.

“Smart breakers will need to give way to device API integrations, which keep device [user interfaces] in the loop and allow them to respond gracefully,” he added.

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