Smart Grids have been a pretty common topic at IBM and here on this blog over the past year. In the past two days, we made two more announcements involving smart grid projects – one with the City of Amsterdam, and another with Oncor. To get a little more perspective on the topic, we asked some questions of Michael Valocchi, IBM’s lead consultant for the Energy & Utilities industry. Below are some highlights from the Q&A.
Why Smart Grids, why now?
Infrastructure investments are at the forefront of stimulus packages around the world to spur economic growth—smart systems are transforming energy grids, supply chains, water management, the healthcare industry to name a few. Think of the rate cities are being built – it’s staggering. Urbanization is a massive strain on the planet’s infrastructure and the delivery of a city’s core elements — energy, water, gas — needs more intelligence to support the shift. That “intelligence” requires technology to capture and analyze data at all levels within a system.
From IBM’s standpoint, we are helping utility companies make the transition in their electric grid, gas and water infrastructures from a rigid, analog system to a dynamic, automated and reliable network. By helping utilities companies make that transition to a smarter digital system, consumers are empowered to manage their energy usage through detailed real-time information on the energy they are using.
IBM is announcing a new relationship with Oncor, a utility company in Texas. Oncor has reached a significant milestone in its smart metering deployment and is announcing a successful IT integration through the help of IBM. We act as the information backbone in an active deployment of 200,000 smart meters that has a special focus on data security. This is one of the largest deployments in the US—it is expected to reach 700,000 meters by the end of the year and 3.2 million by 2012. While the relationship is a year old, we wanted to announce our involvement alongside a milestone to show real progress.
We also announced a smart metering pilot program with the City of Amsterdam. In collaboration with a Dutch utility and other partners, IBM will deploy an energy management system in 500 households that enables customers to have real time insight into their energy consumption. One of the applications is a user-friendly energy display the size of a photo-frame—it connects wirelessly to the utility provider’s digital gas and electricity meter. The resident then can see from the living room, for example, how much energy is being used at a specific moment at the appliance level. With that kind of visibility, each household can realize significant savings on energy.
What is the significance of the announcements?
I think the big significance is that both of these projects are about empowering consumers; they represent a whole new level of visibility in energy consumption. These projects bring information and analytics to both the utility and the consumer so that they can optimize their operations and usage. As a pair, the announcements show the breadth of projects that IBM is equipped to support and execute—from innovative research projects to full scale and active deployments. We have more than 50 of these going on around the world.
What’s next in the Smart Grid evolution?
In this age of increasing demand for energy and the desire to be more environmentally responsible, I think we need to start thinking about the intelligence needed to support new additions on the grid, such as electrical vehicles – and look at ways to turn millions of those electric vehicles into a distributed storage system. Also, water will become more and more interconnected with energy systems. Like the first Smart Grid nation Malta, we need to think beyond just one utility system. Through an advanced level of intelligence and linking utility systems together, we can make an entire city, or nation, smarter.