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Smarter Utilities
February 15th, 2013
8:00
 

Scott T. Rickards, CEO, Waterfund

By Scott T. Rickards

In our data-rich financial universe, a fundamental economic question remains unanswered: at what cost is it economical for the world’s largest cities to bring additional water supply online?  

The oil industry will tell you that $100/barrel oil is the value below which capital allocation can earn a return. Given its critical importance in our lives, why does the water industry not have a similar fast answer to the question? Is the ‘global water crisis’ a resource crisis or perhaps a capital crisis?

Precisely because of its critical importance, the water industry has been given a pass on cost transparency by everyone from politicians, to Wall Street, to economists due to the unimaginable consequences of not having an abundant supply of fresh water. As a result, the subject of water production costs remains largely unexplored and water has taken a back seat to virtually every other resource in the battle for private investment dollars.   Continue Reading »

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Christopher Luongo, Writer/Strategist, IBM Communications

By Christopher Luongo

More school systems across the U.S. are looking for ways to balance their commitment to providing a top-notch education with the pressure of keeping their buildings in tip-top shape. To achieve this, some schools are moving away from paper-based systems and putting all their data, from operational and maintenance information to real estate and resource data, online. Doing so, however, is creating a whole new set of issues as the schools are now left to deal with the management of “Big Data.” 

Since it’s unreasonable to build brand new, energy-efficient buildings from the ground up, more school districts are looking within and starting to leverage and exploit the Big Data of building information. They’re starting to sift through critical data to make school structures more energy efficient and more cost-effective.

School districts from Portland, Oregon to Palm Beach, Florida are taking this approach. And with IBM’s help they’re finding highly profitable solutions that are helping to cut costs, save energy and enable schools to make smarter decisions on how school buildings are maintained and used.  Continue Reading »

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By Martina Koederitz, IBM Germany Country General Manager

At the United Nations’ climate summit in Rio, the German minister of environmental development, Peter Altmaier, created a new word for the English speaking world: Energy-Wende.

Energy-Wende is the shift away from nuclear power toward alternative energy sources like solar energy, wind power and other renewable energies. After the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in March 2011, the German government under Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to phase out nuclear power, which is being followed with great interest by the whole world. “If we succeed in converting the energy revolution, and still remain competitive, then we become a model for the world,” Altmaier added.

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Large power networks are required for the nuclear phase-out and conversion to renewable energy. Wind is currently the most important source among renewable energy. Unfortunately, wind power is generated not where the need is greatest, but where the wind blows most – in front of the North and Baltic Sea coast.

This electricity has to be transported from the north to the south. That was different in the past, when conventional power plants were built near large cities and industrial centers. In addition, the supply varies with wind and solar power, depending on the weather. The electricity networks must be able to efficiently absorb it and move it to the point of consumption. The network expansion is therefore a fundamental part of energy policy, just as Smart Grids should be.  Smart Grids use IT to gather and act on information in an automated way to improve the efficiency, reliability, economics, and sustainability of the production and distribution of electricity.

IBM Germany calls for the extension of intelligent networks to support the “Energy-Wende” in Germany
Smart Grids: Nervous system of the energy transition

By 2020, renewable energy sources should supply at least 35 percent of the required electricity in Germany. This conversion will cost about 200 billion Euros, though reliable estimates are difficult. Apart from investments in new power plants, transmission lines and energy storage, power grids must be equipped with additional intelligence. Without “smart grids” the green rebuilding of the energy supply is inefficient and the stability of the networks is at risk. Therefore the technology industry and leaders like IBM must partner with energy suppliers and governments to help accelerate smart grid activity.

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The 1990s was the era of reengineering the corporation. Technology helped leaders overhaul their operations–everything from sales to supply chains. Now the phenomenon has spread to cities. Across the globe, municipal leaders ares rethinking and redesigning how they do things.

One of their biggest headaches is infrastructure–their roads, bridges, sidewalks, water lines and sewer pipes. They used to fix things when they broke. These days, increasingly, the forward-thinkers among them aim to fix things before they have a chance to break. And they’re using technology to help them optimize the way they invest in infrastructure maintenance and renewal.

Cambridge, a small city in Ontario, Canada, is in the vanguard of getting this right. It has been working with IBM Research to develop a system for prioritizing the city’s investments in fixing or replacing physical infrastructure so they meet the public’s needs while making the most of their limited budget. “We look at how we can use technology and revised business practices to make the city work better,” says Mike Hausser, Cambridge’s director of asset management and support services.

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Another Person for a Smarter Planet

Some transformations can affect a person, a team, clients, and sometimes even reach a continent.  Global Energy & Utilities Industry Leader, Michael Valocchi’s journey as a consultant has taken him through all of this and more.

Last year, Michael joined a group to revitalize IBM’s strategy in Africa which included examining how dozens of African countries can be transformed – infusing intelligence into government, bank, communications, energy processes.  The team was steeped into African cultures, speaking and listening to African leaders about their critical challenges. Continue Reading »

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New York City may seem an unlikely hot spot for solar energy, but think again. Consider the fact that there are 20 million square feet of usable solar farm space on top of the city’s 1,100 public school roofs alone–enough to generate 170,000 megawatts of electricity. So its no wonder that city government and business leaders are taking solar seriously.

Market forces are cooperating. Prices for solar panels are plummeting. But there remain some major impediments to solar adoption. All things considered, it’s still more expensive than traditional energy sources.

That’s where data analytics comes in. As part of the SMART NY, IBM is working with CUNY Ventures, a for-profit offshoot of the City University of New York, to create a system for gathering and analyzing information about the entire solar ecosystem within the city. The goal is to bring down the cost of installing solar.  “We’re looking to make solar competitive with other sources. We need to mainstream this technology to make it easy to adopt,” says Tria Case, CUNY’s director of sustainability and coordinator of  SMART NY.

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By Clay Luthy, Global Distributed Energy Resource Leader, Energy & Utilities Industry, IBM

With gas prices hovering at $4.15 per gallon where I live, the talk of electric vehicles (EVs) has increased with vigor. More of my neighbors and friends are toying with the idea of making the switch – much of their reluctance though stems from the fear of inconvenience – will I find a charging station as easily as a gas pump, how will this impact my energy bill, how far can I go on a single charge? These consumer concerns are driving new innovations – uniting forward thinking players to perfect and deploy a smarter EV driving experience.

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By Jonathan Marshall, Chief, External Communications
Pacific Gas and Electric Company

Electric vehicle (EV) owners and electric utilities may soon enjoy a much closer and more fulfilling relationship than traditional car owners have with gas stations, thanks to a new pilot project announced today by IBM, Honda Motors, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). This collaboration aims to demonstrate the ability to optimize the charge schedule for each customer’s EV battery so that the needs of customers and the electric grid are satisfied on an ongoing basis. That’s still a stretch for most utilities. Continue Reading »

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By Pat Davis, Vehicle Technologies Program Manager, Department of Energy (DOE)

“May you live in interesting times” can be either a blessing or a curse. Needless to say, those of us who work in the transportation sector are certainly living in interesting times, full of challenges and opportunities. Electrifying our vehicle fleet offers an abundance of both, making it a particularly exciting area for us at the Department of Energy (DOE).

As the manager for the U.S. Energy Department’s Vehicles Program, I lead a team working to get the most out of our cars and trucks, while minimizing their appetite for oil. Right now, 60 percent of the petroleum used in America fuels on-road vehicles—both consumer and commercial. A little less than half of this petroleum is imported, costing our country more than $1 billion every day. In addition to the national security implications of our dependence on foreign oil, our transportation sector also creates about one-third of America’s greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Although these figures may paint a daunting picture of the challenge ahead, I’m optimistic about meeting our transportation needs in more sustainable ways. Plug-in vehicles that run on domestically-produced electricity offer environmental, social, and economic benefits, and the variety and the quantity of electric and hybrid cars and trucks on the road is increasing. Car makers are rolling out new models; while the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are the most widely available models now, manufacturers are planning on introducing more than two dozen new plug-in vehicle models over the next two years. Tax incentives help more people have access to this cutting-edge technology and many cities are updating plans and policies for the charging infrastructure to be ready for these new vehicles.

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By Andreas Fuchs, co-project leader, Electric Mobility, EKZ, Kanton Zürich, Switzerland

It is estimated that by 2050, 95 percent of cars will be equipped with an electric socket. This will mean that more than five million parking lots in Switzerland alone will be need to be equipped with a charging station to enable electric vehicle (EV) charging. Now imagine if all of these cars began charging at the same time and the impact it would have on the power grid.

While the electrical grid in Switzerland is not yet “smart,” the fact remains that EVs are being purchased. It is therefore, up to the auto manufacturers, utilities and equipment suppliers to ensure that the charging process is coordinated and controlled in order to prevent grid overload.

This was the driving incentive behind the Smartphone application (app) pilot that we are conducting with IBM Research in Zürich and the University of Applied Research Zürich in Winterthur, ZHAW. The goal is to study how mobile communication can be used to remotely control the EV charging process.

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