Smart Grid Ecosystem – Here Come the Tech Giants

The smart grid has been called the “energy Internet” so it makes sense that giant tech companies are rolling out products and services. The enterprise IT companies, in particular, are ramping up their investments.

IBM has been focused on utilities consulting and software for several years. They offer enterprise software with extensive systems integration and IT support. Some of IBMs solutions are purpose-built for the grid, but many are just reconfigured from its extensive portfolio of enterprise applications. You can count on Cisco to get involved in every application of IP networks. The smart grid is no exception. Cisco will work with utilities on home area networking (HAN), backhaul services, network security, and network operations. Microsoft is naturally focused on software. A late mover, it recently jumped in with a software suite now in field trials. Coming out of the web, Google is experimenting with a web-based solution which it offers free to partner utilities (and their customers). Google sees a major play in all the data that will be generated. As in their primary market, they will go head-to-head with Microsoft, courting utilities and their customers. Oracle is focused on utility data management and operations integration around their database, middleware, applications and back-end technology infrastructure. Most of the majors are also making investments in the smaller players. And last to mention here, Intel is developing microprocessors for embedding into transmission and distribution equipment.

The other tech giants are not (yet) as deeply involved but they won’t sit on the sidelines and let this market develop for long. Consumer electronics (CE) competencies revolve around the digital home and creating stylish, easy to use products. The growth of the smart grid will depend heavily on consumer acceptance and the CE companies know the consumer better than anyone. With the smart grid’s requirement for digital networks spanning the continent, telecoms giants such as Verizon and AT&T are offering 3G wireless networking services to the utilities so they don’t have to build their own networks from the ground up. They will also offer consumer solutions based on their cell-phone platforms. In Boulder’s smart city, Xcel built out it’s own fiber optic network, but that won’t be the norm.

Each one of these companies brings its core competencies into the utility industry. Each one is building large partner networks. This opportunity wide and deep, no single company can provide all the solutions. The utilities industry is America’s largest, almost double the size of the telecoms industry. Electric utilities control more than $ 600B in assets with $ 260B in annual revenue. There are more than a billion meters worldwide with more than 100M in the US. Upgrading so many meters, homes, and network assets is an opportunity on the scale of the internet. In another article, we’ll discuss some of the smaller, innovative players in this space.

Note: We recommend you review the top-level ecosystem map to see the other players jumping into this space. 

Dr. Brancheau has 30 years of experience in business, technology, and education. He is founder and CEO of Carbon-Pros, a B2B consultancy focused on business sustainability. He is currently working on a book about sustainability and the smart grid. Dr. Brancheau has held a wide range of positions in public and private companies and at major universities. Jim has expertise in business sustainability, carbon reduction, renewable energy, green building, business start-ups and exits, strategy and operations, marketing and sales, team building, software development, virtual organizations, research, education, writing, and public speaking.

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