At times it seems there’s a piece of the smart grid pie for just about everyone, from meter makers to software developers to utilities and energy storage firms. But companies building communications technology could eventually be among the biggest winners in the smart grid buildout, which is why two of Europe’s biggest players in this space, France’s Alcatel-Lucent (s ALU) and the UK’s Vodafone (s VOD), announced yesterday a “smart metering” partnership through their subsidiaries in Germany. The companies will work together to develop an “extensive offer” for the German market meant to provide consumers with real-time information about their energy and water use. Both subsidiaries will market the offering as a managed service through their respective sales organizations.
The companies said the deal matches each firm’s core competencies. Alcatel-Lucent will provide its Smart Metering Management System, an IP-based software platform for real-time monitoring of utility meters, as well as services to help integrate the new smart meter services with an energy provider’s existing back-end systems, such as those for resource planning and data management. Vodafone will provide the communications connection between the smart meters installed at homes and Alcatel-Lucent’s metering management system. That connection will be provided over Vodafone’s network using either a fixed-line DSL or wireless GPRS connection, according to the release.
The companies said their partnership will enable German utilities to meet EU rules related to the smart grid, including the requirement to bill customers based on their actual energy usage (as opposed to flat rates) and the call for adoption of technologies to provide the “same open-access principles” that apply to the Internet today. The partnership has already inked at least one German deal, with municipal utility Stadwerke Pasewalk, to monitor and control its smart meters and integrate related systems. As part of the deal, Alcatel-Lucent will give the utility’s customers devices to monitor their energy use in real time.
This partnership announcement comes as communication technology heavyweights have been ramping up efforts in the smart grid industry. Telcos, which have invested heavily in building ubiquitous wireless networks, are widely seen to be in a position to ink lucrative deals with utilities (See our Long View article on this topic at GigaOM Pro, subscription only). Phone Companies have been looking into creative ways to use their 3G networks for “machine-to-machine” services like the smart grid as a way to diversify their customer base.
In the U.S., AT&T so far has been the most aggressive among telcos in the smart grid space. Earlier this week, the telco announced a deal with Silver Spring Networks, which builds smart grid networking gear, in which Silver Spring can use AT&T’s network to communicate with a utility’s back office. Meanwhile, Verizon is working with meter maker Itron and smart-grid firm Ambient to use its wireless network for sending meter data to utilities.