Computing giant IBM and French electric utility EDF will together research ways to boost the efficiency of power plants and modernize electricity infrastructure, IBM announced today. The collaboration puts them in the thick of what’s known as the smart grid industry, a potentially $65 billion market whose key players include IT, energy, and utility companies. Their goal: Harness wasted energy and untapped data to create an ultra-efficient, dynamic power network that allows energy — and information — to flow both ways.
With smart grid tech, the power grid can more easily accommodate, say, a home with solar panels on its roof feeding unused energy back into the general power supply. If something like the Better Place infrastructure project in California, or for that matter, EDF’s own partnership with Renault in France, goes nationwide, all of those plug-ins could put a big strain on power supplies — unless a more “intelligent” grid allows cars to give and take juice from the grid according to when electricity is needed most.
IBM is hardly a new entrant in this field. It is a member of industry groups including GridWise Alliance, Global Intelligent Utility Network Coalition, and the Demand and Response Smart Grid Coalition (which Google also joined recently), and it has been working with utility companies for years.
Working with EDF basically gives IBM a massive laboratory in which to build out its technology, creating, as IBM Energy and Utilities research chief Ron Ambrosio described it to Greentech Media, “a very large system of systems.” That’s reminiscent of another innovation that’s attained a bit of popularity: the network of networks, aka the Internet.