Companies building smart meters and the network infrastructure that allows them to communicate back to electric utilities generate most of the buzz around the emerging smart grid. But all that data sent from those smart meters has to be gathered, analyzed and acted upon by utilities, and therein lies a business opportunity for ambitious software companies. Now, one of the world’s largest software companies, Oracle, has launched what it calls an end-to-end software solution for electricity distributors looking to embrace smart grid technologies.
The offering is a smorgasbord of software packages to be used in the data centers of utilities. The software includes applications to help utilities integrate with smart meters and respond more quickly to outages, and software for utilities to manage customer billing and offer time-of-use pricing. Other Oracle software will help utilities present usage data to customers, perform peak load analysis to help balance system loads, and automate day-to-day operations, like dispatch, scheduling and routing.
As the broader economy continues to flag, Oracle’s new offering should provide the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based software giant an opportunity for growth in an emerging market niche. President Obama has called for the installation of 40 million smart meters, up from about 7 million installed at the end of last year, and there is more than $4 billion in stimulus funding for smart grid technologies.
Oracle already had a group focused on software products for electric, gas and water utilities, much of it based off the acquisition in 2006 of SPL WorldGroup, at the time a leading provider of revenue and operations management software for the utilities industry. But this latest announcement by Oracle means the company is now more focused on the industry and has more products to offer.
Startups eyeing the utility backend software market will shudder at the news of a giant entering their space. One of them, San Mateo, Calif.-based eMeter, raised $12.5 million in venture funding last year to develop a software package that helps utilities’ older systems, like billing, work together with new smart-grid systems. The software helps utilities do peak-pricing and time-of-use programs, among other features. Another startup, St. Paul, Minn.-based Ecologic Analytics, which is backed by the Bayard Group, builds software to help electric, gas and water utilities collect, validate and store data from smart meters.
While Oracle is an intimidating competitor, both startups have found traction in the market. eMeter, for example, has customers in the U.S., Canada and Europe representing over 24 million smart meter points under contract.
Meanwhile, other large software companies are jumping into the market. Germany’s SAP also announced yesterday the availability of a software package that helps utilities integrate smart meter data with backend sales, services and billing. The business software maker also is collaborating with Burlington, Mass.-based StreamServe to build a dashboard that displays billing and carbon emissions data to customers.