Summary:

Can the cloud handle the energy and smart meter data of an entire country? The U.K. is working on several nationwide smart meter data clearinghouse projects that could be a start, and companies like IBM are targeting the market.

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We’ve seen a lot of activity this year in how the cloud can connect an entire city’s smart meters and smart buildings — but how about an entire country? Well, that’s just what the U.K. is working on, and the island nation could serve as a vital test market for expanding the cloud to connect multiple energy networks into a seamless whole.

The latest news on that front came earlier this week, when IBM and British telecom Cable&Wireless announced plans for a cloud platform to connect the 50 million or so smart meters set to be deployed in the U.K. over the next decade. The so-called “UK Smart Energy Cloud” is meant to integrate smart meter data into a clearinghouse that can be accessed by multiple retail energy providers, a project that’s now in its early stages.

The U.K. has had a deregulated energy market since the late 1980’s, which means that the country’s utilities must share meter and customer energy and pricing data with multiple parties. That’s a tricky technical proposition for most utilities’ batch processing-style back-end data management systems, made more complicated in the U.K.’s case by the fact that utilities have to deal with multiple partners that are adding and losing customers on a day-to-day basis.

In fact, deregulated, or competitive, power markets offer some unique challenges for smart meter networks and other smart grid systems, according to Nigel Spooner, utilities group director for Logica. The U.K. IT integration giant helped set up the country’s first platform to manage meter data for the deregulated market, giving it quite a bit of insight into the transition to smart grid-enabled services in the country.

“In the U.K., we’ve made this industry about as complicated as it can be, in terms of how we’ve unbundled it,” Spooner said in an interview last week. “We don’t even know who owns the meters” in some cases, since metering companies are permitted to compete for customers under the country’s deregulated market scheme.

The U.K.’s Smart Meter Implementation Programme is now taking proposals from companies interested in building a central repository for all of these competing utilities to feed their smart meter data into, as well as access data from other utilities.

Logica is already deeply involved in U.K. smart metering, with its Instant Energy service supporting about three-quarters of the smart meters now deployed in the country. It also helps run the country’s wholesale electricity transaction processing platform — work that could well-position Logica to compete for the same U.K. smart meter management pie that IBM and C&W are now targeting.

While Spooner declined to discuss Logica’s plans regarding the U.K. country-wide smart meter clearinghouse program, he did point out that the company’s cloud partnership with Microsoft, launched in January, could see applications in the smart grid space.

While plans for a U.K.-wide smart meter clearinghouse roll ahead, U.K. utilities are rolling out smart meters at a fast clip, many in partnership with vendors that may see a place for themselves in building a piece of that platform.

Redwood City, Calif.-based grid networking company Trilliant recently landed a 1-million smart meter deal with British Gas, and may be seeking to expand that to work on the nationwide smart meter clearinghouse. That clearinghouse is also a target of smart meter data management software maker eMeter, which is also working on moving its smart meter management software to the cloud in partnership with Verizon.

IBM, of course, is a major presence in the world of integrating smart meters and smart grid systems, with projects underway across the world with multiple utilities. It’s also building up a cloud computing platform for cities to manage energy, water, traffic and other city operations from a single IT backbone.

IT giants such as Cisco and Microsoft are also working on their own cloud platforms to manage city-wide smart energy assets, with Cisco active in several major cities in South Korea and Microsoft is doing a cloud computing project with French power giant Alstom to manage distributed energy generation systems in a city-wide context.

Cross-utility cloud computing is also gaining steam. Lockheed Martin recently announced it was launching a cloud-based platform to serve the smart meter and demand response needs of multiple, smaller cooperative utilities, and Digi International has a machine-to-machine networking cloud platform to manage energy-aware devices for companies including Comverge, Schneider Electric and Cooper Industries.

And of course, lots of innovative startups are using the cloud to manage energy services for homes and businesses, including AlertMe and Intamac in the U.K. and EcoFactor in the deregulated energy market of Texas — another interesting market to watch for new developments in sharing energy data from multiple meters and private parties across integrated platforms.

Moving an entire country’s energy market to the cloud presents a daunting technical challenge, as well as a business and regulatory challenge in making it pay for itself while maintaining the security and privacy demanded by the governing entities in charge of it all.

Image courtesy of Vinnn via Creative Commons license.

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