IBM Launches Software to Act as Smart Grid Glue for Startups

powergridgeneric4It’s always been hard to explain IBM’s (s IBM) role in the smart grid — the computing company has its hands in dozens of utility smart grid deals by way of software that can act as a facilitator for smart grid buildouts. This morning IBM detailed a bit more about how it’s acting as a sort of glue between utilities and third-party smart grid vendors, with the announcement of new software called “Solution Architecture for Energy and Utilities Framework (SAFE).”

Any smart grid firm — from a smart meter data management software maker to a home area energy dashboard maker — can build applications and services to be compatible with IBM’s SAFE software, and utilities can easily and quickly integrate the third-party tool into their networks, says IBM. Companies like ESRI, SISCO, Retriever Communications, Trilliant, BPL Global, Coulomb Technologies, eMeter, Enterprise Information Management, Itron (s ITRI), OSIsoft and PowerSense have already built their tools to be compatible with SAFE. Trilliant CEO Andy White emphasized in a statement that it’s critical for smart grid software to be easily and quickly scaled up and standards-compliant.

IBM’s SAFE could be particularly helpful for young startups. The software can offer these companies a standard software platform to build upon, enabling them to focus on their valuable intellectual property. IBM’s announcement quotes Lee Burrows, a partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners, which has invested in home energy management startup Tendril, as saying: “VantagePoint sees great value in our portfolio companies teaming with established industry leaders like IBM.”

IBM’s software can also help take the risk out of a utility doing a deal with an unknown and tiny startup. Utilities generally like to work with big companies, but given the industry is so nascent, many of them are working with relative newbies, and IBM’s software can help add some needed weight to the equation.

Of course, many startups and smart grid firms won’t want to build their products based on IBM’s SAFE and will want to create their own baseline smart grid software that can act as a standard. And many companies are big enough that they don’t need the weight of IBM when they are making a utility deal. But we look forward to seeing which startups decide to go with SAFE and which decide to make their own way.