The initial idea for USNAP emerged in 2007 when the California Energy Commission (CEC) was dealing with the question of how to enable consumer products (initially thermostats) to be built in an inexpensive way so that they could communicate with different utility systems for grid management. 

The primary problem plaguing the energy industry is that not all systems operate over the same networks and protocols. Rather than force manufacturers to build and integrate devices specifically for each communication protocol, the USNAP idea involves using an external communication interface that can be “plugged” or “snapped” into a product to connect it to whatever communication system is desired or in-place. That way, manufacturers and retailers can offer the same exact product in multiple markets, without being concerned whether those markets, or dominant devices in those markets, are using the same protocol. 

 Like the USB port on a PC, that allows a myriad of applications; the USNAP solution provides a common interface between the communications module and the consumer product (thermostat, energy display, appliance, water heater, residential gateway, load controller, PHEV etc.). The USNAP specification enables any Home Area Network (HAN) or Demand Response (DR) standard, present and future, to use any energy systems interface as a gateway, without adding additional protocol-specific hardware. By providing industry with a protocol independent serial interface, it is possible to make energy aware consumer products active participants in the Smart Grid, anywhere and everywhere.

The USNAP solution provides an affordable solution that can be deployed during the manufacturing process, or in the field. Utilities can continue deployment of grid systems using their protocol of choice, knowing that HAN devices will be compatible today, tomorrow and well into the future. Utilities will save money by not having to bear the extra cost of multiple communication protocols, while consumers will benefit from standardized products available from multiple suppliers, including traditional retail and Do It Yourself (DIY) channels.

The USNAP solution allows consumers to purchase Smart Grid “ready” products through traditional retail channels, and connect to utilities and other service providers through a pre-configured USNAP card. Once received, consumers simply “snap” the card into the open slot in a compatible product. The device can then connect and communicate.

The USNAP Alliance is rapidly gaining support by Smart Grid stakeholders worldwide, including utilities, metering & AMI suppliers, HVAC, device and appliance manufacturers, industry consultants and regulators. With the recent certification of the USNAP specification as an ASNI-compliant Standard (ANSI/CEA-2045), and USNAP's testing and certification processes, consumers should be able to purchase compatible products starting in late 2013.