Mesh-networking standard ZigBee now has support for IP, allowing embedded devices (from 'leccy meters to lightbulbs) to be directly addressed as long as the addresser is using IPv6.
The new extension to the standard, ZigBee IP, has been created at the behest of utilities and will be integrated into the next version of the ZigBee Smart Energy profile. That profile is already being used by utilities in California and Texas and permits utilities to control energy consumption, but version two will extend those capabilities and, with ZigBee IP, make them internet friendly.
Zigee is a low-power mesh-networking protocol. Devices supporting the standard can be addressed and also relay messages to devices which would otherwise be beyond range. The mesh is thus self-forming and the ZigBee Alliance would like our homes to be awash with nodes linking back to our electricity meter or other hub.
Philips Hue light bulbs use ZigBee, very successfully, though for now only the controlling hub can be addressed with an IP connection - and it's version four. ZigBee IP is a version six standard, which is essential if there is really going to be an Internet of Things linking 50 billion devices, which is the number currently being bandied about.
IPv4 addresses are running out, with ISPs already sharing them between broadband customers even while they're online. Linking up every dishwasher, hoover and light bulb in the world is going to need the next version, which those devices supporting ZigBee Smart Energy will get.
Connecting up all those devices is the first step towards such plans as relinquishing control of them to the electricity supplier, who gains the power to pull the plug when demand peaks - hopefully offering you something in exchange, such as a lower tariff. Handing over control of one's fridge to the utility company might be scary, but it would allow the nation to get past the early-evening demand peak with a power station or so fewer and so there's money in it.
But that might not be enough to make it acceptable, and ZigBee Smart Power will, apparently, have a host of other uses. ®