IBM Smartens Grid Down Under

Startups like GridPoint, eMeter and Silver Spring Networks are all pulling in funding to make the power grid smarter. But tech institutions, like computer giant IBM, think there’s money to be made in improving our power infrastructure, too. IBM Global Energy and Utilities Industry is heading Down Under in a partnership with Country Energy, an Australian utility, to deploy IBM’s Intelligent Utility Network.

IBM describes an Intelligent Utility Network as:

“a digital, open standards-based network of sensors, metering, communications, computer processors, and analytics which connects an entire utility company — from power plant to plug.”

The network transformation is the result of two powerful trends, IBM’s general manager of Global Energy & Utilities Industry Guido Bartels explained to us. The grid, like everything else, is switching from analog to digital while power generation is transitioning from a centralized system to a distributed model, he said. And Big Blue thinks it can build the network for big green power.

The General Manager for IBM’s Global Energy & Utilities Industry is just one hat Guido Bartels wears. He is also chair of the GridWise Alliance, a collaborative venture from the Department of Energy which includes reps from Sempra Energy, GridPoint, CenterPoint Energy and EnergySolve.

Karen Caldwell, the Global Director for the Intelligent Utility Network Coalition, explained the benefits of a smart grid in basic terms:

What happens when you digitize the grid is you’re able to handle minute data from a time and quantity perspective. Changes on the demand side allow you to bring on or off different generation methods quickly and do it all without human intervention because this needs to be done quickly. We need machines talking to machines.

Indeed, the “smart grid”, perhaps more so than any other cleantech vertical, is purely a technology arena. Scott Lang, the chief executive of Silver Spring Networks, recently described the business to The Economist as “classic IT.”

While the startups will take risks on innovative technologies, it will be huge technology and infrastructure companies like IBM, Honeywell and GE that will end up investing in the smart grid, smart metering and power infrastructure intelligence upgrades.

Retro-50s style graphic courtesy of IBM.