Announcing the new Smarter Energy Research Institute

IBM and global utility companies are joining forces to spur new advances in energy. Their efforts are manifested in the Smarter Energy Research Institute (SERI), where the first members are Hydro Quebec of Canada, Alliander of the Netherlands, DTE Energy and IBM.

"SERI is designed to accelerate innovation in the energy and utilities industry and for members to become major beneficiaries in extracting value from the information and communication technologies revolution," said Dr. Dario Gil, SERI’s institute director and director of energy and natural resources for IBM Research. "Working collaboratively across disciplines, institutions and geographies has been proven time and again to deliver superior innovation results."

The institute will use predictive analytics, optimization and advanced computation. The effort will combine IBM Research’s capabilities in mathematical sciences, computer science and high-performance computing with the extensive power and engineering knowledge of the participating utilities.

New technologies create new opportunities
Today’s energy and utility companies face a changing landscape as technology transforms both the delivery and requirements of energy. Perhaps foremost of these changes is the concept of a participatory network, which allows consumers to monitor their energy use in real time. At the same time, advancements in information technologies and distributed energy resources―such as distributed electrical storage, electric and plug-in-hybrid vehicles, distributed solar and wind generation―are creating new opportunities for business growth while increasing the complexity and sophistication of operations. Sustainability is also more important, with government policies and regulations driving adoption of renewable energy sources and conservation measures that must be integrated into the grid.

“Working collaboratively across disciplines, institutions and geographies has been proven time and again to deliver superior innovation results.” -- Dario Gil
Cost/benefits of the smart grid. $338 billion to $476 billion. Deployment costs of smart grid technology (over 20 years). $1.3 trillion to $2 trillion. Benefits accrued in the same period. (source: Electric Power Research Institute)

To meet these challenges, the Smarter Energy Research Institute has defined five innovation tracks. Members can choose to focus their joint-research efforts on: outage planning optimization, asset management optimization, integration of renewables and distributed energy resources, wide-area situational awareness and the participatory network. Within this framework, members of the Institute can work on specific research projects, collaborating with IBM researchers. Each member obtains usage rights within their enterprises for all the innovations (e.g. algorithms, code, patents) created by all the participants of the Institute working with IBM Research.

About the first members
Hydro Quebec is Canada’s largest electric utility and exporter of electricity to the U.S. It is also one of only seven large electric utilities in the world to operate its own research center and has a portfolio of intellectual property of more 1,000 patents in the portfolio field energy.

Alliander is a major energy distributor and specialist in renewable energy, sustainability, technical innovations, and complex power systems in the Netherlands, serving more 3 million customers.

DTE Energy is involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services across the United States. Its largest operating subsidiaries are Detroit Edison, an electric utility serving 2.1 million customers in Southeastern Michigan, and Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. (MichCon), a natural gas utility serving 1.2 million customers in Michigan.

The German government estimates that managing the power supply more efficiently could save the equivalent of the yearly consumption of 2.5 million households.

Predictive Analytics, Optimization and Advanced Computing
The utility of the future will depend on an increasingly instrumented and automated grid. That, in turn, can benefit from the application of predictive analytics, optimization and advanced computing to drive better business and operational results.

Take, for example, better response to weather-induced power outages. Through data analysis and computer modeling, utilities will be able to predict impact that a storm would have on the electrical grid even days in advance. By following that prediction, a utility could pre-position repair crews to begin restoration as quickly as possible.

Integrating renewable and distributed energy resources into the grid can also benefit. These energy sources are prone to a lot of variability (wind may or may not blow at any given time, clouds stop solar panels from producing, and consumers may choose to plug in electric vehicles at different times of the day). The ability to predict these variables accurately will help utilities balance supply and demand.

The US power grid is the “largest system of interconnected machines on the planet.” --  energy and infrastructure expert David Fessler.