Dell, IBM address the smart grid's Big Data challenge

What good is all the real-time information being collected about energy consumption if the IT infrastructure doesn't exist to make sense of it?

These days, whenever I sit back to write a piece about energy efficiency, or energy storage or the smart grid, I can't help thinking about that new television show Revolution, which explores what would happen if the world's power went out. Permanently. Did I mention that it is described as post-apocalyptic?

Naturally, my next thoughts go the transmission and grid infrastructure that supports our current electricity supply - and all the initiatives going on to make the grid smarter. I equate the investments being made in the so-called smart grid as akin to those made decades ago in the U.S. interstate highway system. Getting it all integrated seamlessly (and securely!) is not a trivial undertaking, especially for the utility industy -- which can't exactly be called an innovator when it comes to IT infrastructure.

Yet, that's exactly what is needed to make the smart grid work. All the real-time data points being collected across it -- generated by millions of wireless sensors and other smart interconnected devices -- is creating one of the biggest Big Data challenges out there.

How big? A new report out from Pike Research estimates that the market for smart grid analytics couuld generate cumulative spending of about $34 billion between now and 2020.

"Smart grids cannot be considered smart without the actionable intelligence to correct deficiencies throughout the power delivery system, from transmission, substation and distribution systems, to teh customer side of the meter," said Carol Stimmel, research director at Pike. "The demand for market analytics will only grow stronger as utilities upgrade their systems, and both seasoned providers and new entrants are vying to deliver on the promise a smarter grid."

To its credit, IBM figured this out many, many months ago. That's why it got itself involved with a project spearheaded by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to analyze smart meter data collected by 11 utilities across six states. 

"This is a great example of the energy industry recognizing that big data is another natural resource," said Brad Terrell, vice president and general for IBM's Big Data program, when I spoke with him about the smart grid-Big Data tie several weeks ago.

More on the PNNL project below: 

Dell is also focusing more attention on smart grid installations: Earlier this month, the company introduced a new bundled smart grid data management solution for utility companies that includes servers, storage, networking technology and services that have been optimized for the OSIsoft PI System real-time data management platform.

"Smart grid technologies have the potential to revolutionize the way power is produced, delivered, used and conserved - but only if we can effectively capture, analyze and respond to the data that is generated," said Jeff Gillespey, global energy sales director for Dell. 

Whether utility companies are willing to invest in that infrastructure remains to be seen.