IBM hopes new utility coalition can boost grid computing

HOUSTON, TEXAS - IBM and CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric LLC unveiled plans to create a coalition of energy firms that would use Web 2.0 tools to share information about major projects.

IBM said that it hopes the Intelligent Utility Network (IUN) coalition effort will help boost the adoption of grid computing within the energy sector.

IBM is working with CenterPoint on a $750 million, five-year project to automate its entire operation. The effort includes construction of an IUN, an information architecture that allows for the automated real-time monitoring of assets like meters, power lines and customer usage to improve service and reliability, CenterPoint officials said.

The CenterPoint IUN includes a grid that will provide data, information and analytics to help workers improve outage detection and restoration times along with ongoing operations. CenterPoint is using IBM's integration middleware, information management software and enterprise portal to create the IUN.

"The products that consume electricity today are increasingly digital, but the delivery system for electricity is still mostly analog," said Georgianna Nichols, group president of CenterPoint Houston Electric Operations. "We're deploying an intelligent grid infrastructure to digitize the electric grid."

For example, the project with IBM includes the implementation of an Advanced Meter Infrastructure to allow remote connection and disconnection of service and automated meter reads for their Houston customers.

"A year ago we were very optimistic... about automated meter reading," Nichols said. "Within 12 months, this has grown so much bigger that it is a discussion around almost revolutionizing the whole electric utility industry. We were dreaming about it a year ago. Today, it is a reality and we are testing equipment."

IBM plans to provide companies that join the coalition with access to its portal and to other collaboration tools like wikis and blogs to help them to work together at various levels from executive management down to IT developers, said Brad Gammons, vice president of IBM's global energy and utilities industry.

"Think of social networking at a solution development level," he said. "What is different here is allowing a group of utilities to collaborate in really making real things that have been tested. This is about moving to operational deployment."

IBM said it expects to add one or two more members to the coalition in the next three months and to have seven onboard by the end of the year.


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