The Global View

Energy Institute aims to fast-track utility innovation

A new Smarter Energy Research Institute aims to help energy and utility companies improve their services through faster innovation, predictive analytics and better integration of renewables into the power grid.

IBM, the company behind the institute, says the organization is meant to offer a “new industrial research collaboration model” bringing together corporate research and the energy and utilities industry.

“Our mission is about bringing research and the energy industry closer together to work jointly on areas critical to the industry’s transformation, and for members to become major beneficiaries in extracting value from the information and communication technology revolution,” said Dario Gil, director of the institute as well as director of energy and natural resources for IBM Research. “Working collaboratively across disciplines, institutions and geographies has been proven time and again at delivering superior innovation results.”

The first companies to join the institute as members include Hydro-Québec of Canada, Alliander of the Netherlands and US-based DTE Energy.

The institute is set up to focus on five core innovation tracks, with each member company taking part in one or two tracks that best match its individual business and operational priorities.

The innovation tracks include:

  • Outage planning optimization — Goal: to reduce the amount of time a customer is without power;
  • Asset management optimization — Goal: to improve how capital and operational expenses are allocated during upgrades and maintenance;
  • Integration of renewables and distributed energy resources — Goal: To help meet targets for grid-connected renewable energy and distributed energy resources while keeping the grid stable;
  • Wide-area situational awareness — Goal: To find anomalies across the grid in real time to improve resilience, reliability and energy quality; and
  • The participatory network — Goal: to build better relationships with customers using an “engagement model.”

Operating out of IBM’s global network of research labs, the Smarter Energy Research Institute is aimed at tackling challenges such as aging infrastructure (which was recently blamed for leaving some 600 million people in India without power for two days), lost productivity caused by outages and service interruptions (at a cost of $150 billion per year in the US alone) and exploding volumes of utility-related data (projected to grow by 900 percent over the coming decade).