IBM and Cable & Wireless Worldwide have announced that they are working together to develop a new intelligent data and communications solution, UK Smart Energy Cloud, to support the UK's Smart Meter Implementation Programme.
Combining IBM’s software and middleware (scalable WebSphere enterprise messaging infrastructure and an Informix time-series database) and C&W Worldwide’s secure, next-generation network and communications capability, UK Smart Energy Cloud is designed to provide a complete overview of energy usage across the country.
The solution will apparently be able to gather data many times a day from any smart meter in the country and store it centrally in a secure, purpose-built, cloud environment hosted in the UK. Data can then be sent to energy retailers for billing and to Distributor Network Operators (DNOs) to enable smart grid functionality.
The cloud advantage for energy retailers is that they won’t need to invest in hardware, systems, people, or the communications network and can deploy smart meters knowing that they can be replaced with no service disruption. (It also means that switching retailers will be easier for energy users). As the number of meters and the level of functionality inevitably grows, the solution will be able to respond without the need to replace or significantly modify the installed infrastructure.
"As we start the journey towards a low carbon economy smart meters will drive a wave of change in the energy system and are set to become an increasingly important part of the nation's critical infrastructure", says Laurence Carpanini, Director of Smart Meters and Smart Grids, IBM UK & Ireland. "With this collaboration, we can provide the UK with a flexible, intelligent solution based on proven technology. We can support the national Smart Meter Implementation Programme and help communities become smarter, more connected and in turn, more sustainable."
The two companies have a strong background in the sector. In the UK IBM is currently advising three of the six largest energy retailers on smart metering. C&W Worldwide has a heritage in the UK utility sector through its acquisitions of Energis (previously part of the National Grid), THUS and Your Comms, as well as an operational infrastructure intertwined with sub-stations and the energy transmission networks
This looks like a bid from IBM and C&W for the role of central data and communications company (DCC) as defined by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in the UK’s Smart Metering Implementation Programme Prospectus last year. (The government will shortly be responding to the subsequent consultation process)
Applying a cloud solution sort of makes sense. For example, one of DECC’s requirements was that the wide area network communications module should be upgradable without the need for the meter to be exchanged. Putting the solution in the cloud overcomes this problem.
The question is, will 50 million smart meter users be happy about their smart meter data and communications being in the cloud? It just enhances the security fears. It’s problematic enough that one company gathers and disseminates all this household energy data across the UK (as DECC proposes) without it having the added perceived vulnerability of being in the cloud.