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Icons of Progress
 

The First Nationwide Smart Energy and Water Grid

IBM100 The First Nationwide Smart Energy and Water Grid iconic mark
 

The Mediterranean island nation of Malta became a smart grid pioneer out of necessity. Its electricity is generated entirely by imported fossil fuel—insufficient to support the growing economy of one of the European Union’s smallest members and unsustainable environmentally for the long term. In addition, its power and water are intricately linked. Electrically powered desalination plants provide more than half of the water supply. Meanwhile, rising sea levels and over-exploitation are threatening Malta’s limited freshwater supplies.

These challenges led to a 2008 collaboration between IBM and the Maltese national power and water utilities on the world’s first national smart utility grid. It involves replacing 250,000 analog electric meters with smarter meters that can monitor electricity usage close to real time, identify water leaks and electricity losses, set variable rates, and reward customers who consume less power. IBM will also integrate water meters and advanced IT applications as part of the five-year project, enabling remote monitoring, management, meter readings and meter suspensions.

What is happening in Malta definitely won’t stay in Malta. Smart grids are transforming energy the world over, and the dream of a smarter energy system is one that IBM has been pursuing actively for several years. The goal is transformation of the entire energy value chain—not just in terms of the emergence of new products and services, but also in the way providers regard infrastructure, new technological advances and standards.

Starting in the 2000s, with IBM’s help, utilities began transitioning to digital smart grids that collect data from networks of sensors and use advanced analytics to glean insight from it. The shift from one-way to two-way systems helps utilities improve their understanding of consumer energy usage and make informed decisions about operations during times of high demand or shortages.

IBM was one of the founding members of the US Department of Energy’s GridWise Alliance, which since 2003 has been the US government’s go-to group for grid modernization. As part of the program, IBM and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory launched a 2006 pilot in Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula that demonstrated how regulating temperatures of home appliances during peak power periods could prevent grid overloads. The project was a pioneer in making utility customers part of the process by giving them a financial incentive to trade reduced usage of home appliances for lower costs when there was a shortage of power.

With energy- and climate-related issues at the top of its strategic agenda, in 2007 IBM formed its own Global Intelligent Utility Network Coalition, which works directly with power providers in bringing digital computing to the electricity network to help reduce outages and faults, manage demand, and integrate renewable energy sources such as wind and power. Today the Coalition comprises fourteen members serving nearly 150 million energy customers worldwide. The Coalition’s first collaborative effort was the creation of a Smart Grid Maturity model, which has been used by more than 60 utilities from around the world to assess their current state and plan their own smart grid program.

The project in Malta, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2012, is the first step in establishing an end-to-end electricity and water smart utility system. And as the system enables better insight into usage patterns, demand management and energy efficiency, and allows the utilities to start tackling commercial and technical losses, the Maltese government can begin to effectively replace its carbon-intensive fuel oil with sustainable sources of energy. By collecting and analyzing the data from the thousands of digital sensors embedded throughout the infrastructure, and addressing the issues of water and power as a system, the Maltese government can provide citizens with better information to help them make smarter decisions about how and when they use power.

With utilities viewed as a critical link to solving challenges related to the care of our planet’s energy resources, by the end of 2010 IBM was involved in more than 150 smart grid engagements around the world—from innovative research projects to full-scale deployments.

 

Selected team members who contributed to this Icon of Progress:

  • Ron Ambrosio Global Research Leader, Energy and Utilities Industry
  • Guido Bartels General Manager, Global Energy and Utilities Industry at IBM
  • Roberto Aguilera Gonzalez Enemalta and Water Services Program Manager, IBM Global Business Services
  • Ricardo Klatovsky Vice President, Energy and Utilities Industry
  • Sharon Nunes Vice President Smarter Cities, Government Industry Strategy and Solutions
  • Jean-Christophe Samin Senior Managing Consultant, IBM Global Business Services
  • F. Michael Valocchi Global Energy and Utilities Leader, IBM Global Business Services