Here's something I've never really thought about at length: You know that puzzled feeling you get when your power goes out in the middle of a beautiful autumn day, when the air is crisp and still. Apparently, quite a few outages aren't acts of nature, they are acts of mis-communication when it comes to planned maintenance projects being undertaken by the utility company. Whoops!
Utility companies might be interested, therefore, in a new technology from IBM Research called the IBM Distribution Outage Planner (IDOP). Yes, planner.
The idea behind IDOP is that maintenance scheduling should be more transparent across an entire power company, especially from department to department, so that routine maintenance doesn't result in embarrassing outages. IDOP, which was developed by IBM Smart Grid consultants and IBM researchers, integrates the information from relevant departments using IBM analytics and optimization technology. That information is used to prioritize scheduling maintenance, balance power workloads, address potential security challenges and coordinate scheduled outages.
IDOP is being tested by Shanghai Electric Power Company, one of the biggest utilities in Asia generating more than 20 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. Shanghai Power coordinates something like 5,000 to 6,000 maintenance tasks per month, and it is using the IBM technology to help automate some of those projects and tests, reducing the sort of downtime that most of us won't tolerate.
No word on how this technology will be commercialized in other markets, but the test with Shanghai represents one of 150 different Smart Grid engagements that IBM is using to build its footprint in this sector. Since it has relatively immediate applications, it seems like the sort of Smart Grid engagement that will have legs pretty quickly.