Now IBM wants to be the pathway that others can use to get into the market.
Company officials Sept. 16 rolled out a software platform that IBM said not only will help utility companies find ways to operate more efficiently, but also will give smaller vendors a platform on which they can build their offerings.
IBM is unveiling its SAFE (Solution Architecture for Energy and Utilities Framework) platform, part of the company's larger Smarter Planet strategy for bringing greater intelligence to power and other infrastructures.
The announcement came the same day that representatives of both IBM and Cisco stood with officials from Pacific Gas and Electric and the city of San Jose, Calif., in announcing an initiative to integrate PG&E smart meters with the city's solar energy infrastructure. PG&E officials said the company will put aside some of the $42.5 million in federal stimulus money it has applied for from the Department of Energy for the project.
For energy companies that are looking for ways to reduce their operating costs and to give their customers tools for monitoring and managing their power consumption, IBM's SAFE solution gives them a platform through which they can incrementally add technologies and solutions, according to Guido Bartels, general manager of IBM's Global Energy and Utilities unit. Bartels pointed out that many of these power companies are under increased regulatory pressure to find alternative sources of energy, including wind and solar energy, and to add such technologies as emission controls and smart distribution.
"We're in a position to help our utility clients transform their networks more efficiently," Bartels said in a statement. "The SAFE framework provides visibility, control and automation across the utility infrastructure as well as IT assets to help provide security and business agility as part of an intelligent network transformation."
IBM also announced a validation process for partners that sell applications to utilities. The program will ensure that those software solutions work on the SAFE platform, which officials said will lead to easier integration and deployment for power companies. IBM listed a number of partners-including ESRI, SISCO, Retriever Communications and Trilliant-that already are on validated on the SAFE platform.
IBM and Cisco both see bright futures in the smart grid business. Over the past few months, both companies have announced smart grid projects, including one initiative, announced in July, in which they are collaborating with Dutch utility Nuon in a pilot project to bring new smart meters and home energy management systems to 500 households in Amsterdam.
Cisco announced in May a plan to bring its networking expertise to the smart grid space. Cisco officials estimate that creating more efficient power grids could grow into a $20-billion-a-year business for Cisco within five years.