IBM Establishes the Smarter Energy Research Institute to Advance the Utility of the Future

IBM today announced the launch of the Smarter Energy Research Institute, a new industrial research collaboration model aimed at accelerating innovation across the global energy and utilities market. Hydro-Québec (Canada), Alliander (Netherlands) and DTE Energy (USA) join as the first members.

The Smarter Energy Research Institute is a new collaboration between corporate research and the energy and utilities industry to transform leading energy companies through the use of predictive analytics, system optimization and advanced computation to deliver better services to their customers. Combining IBM Research’s expertise in the areas of mathematical sciences, computer science and high-performance computing with the deep-power engineering and operational know-how of the participating members, the Institute will focus on five core innovation tracks to pursue joint research and where shared investments, knowledge and capabilities will benefit every member. Each company will identify and be active in up to two tracks that match their business and operational priorities.

The areas include:

  • Outage Planning Optimization – reducing the amount of time a customer is without power
  • Asset Management Optimization – improving the allocation of capital and operational expenses in upgrades and maintenance
  • Integration of Renewables and Distributed Energy Resources (DER) – meeting renewable integration and distributed energy resource regulatory targets while ensuring system stability
  • Wide-Area Situational Awareness – detecting anomalies across the grid in real-time to improve resiliency, reliability and energy quality
  • The Participatory Network – using an engagement model to transform relationships with consumers 

Initial Members
The Smarter Energy Research Institute launches with Hydro-Québec, Alliander and DTE Energy as the first members who operate large energy networks in Canada, the Netherlands and the United States and bring extensive knowledge and expertise in operating and advancing smart grids. Each member has a strong commitment in investing in future technologies and working collaboratively by combining the best of industrial research with the deep knowledge of the energy and utilities industry that drive innovation across the market.

Hydro-Québec is one of the world’s largest hydroelectric power producers and the only North American electric utility to operate its own research center (IREQ).

This is an important milestone for the industry and for Hydro-Québec as we intensify our efforts to improve grid performance and stability. Joining forces with IBM Research, which has a world-class department of mathematics researchers at its disposal, will help lead the efforts of our combined resources to address the next phase in smart-grid transformation,” said Jean Lessard, Director Technology Innovation, IREQ Hydro-Québec.

Alliander is a major Dutch energy distributor and specialist in renewable energy, sustainability, technical innovations, and complex power systems in the Netherlands, serving more than three million customers in the region.

There is no other research-led consortium like the Smarter Energy Research Institute in our market and we believe that by bringing advanced research closer to areas of high industry importance, we can compress the time from research to implementation and business value,” commented Rob Maathuis, Director of Asset Management at Alliander.

DTE Energy is an investor-owned diversified energy company involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services across the United States. DTE Energy’s largest operating subsidiaries are Detroit Edison, an electric utility serving 2.1 million customers in Southeastern Michigan, and Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. (MichCon), a natural gas utility serving 1.2 million customers in Michigan.

Participating in this Institute allows us to utilize advances in predictive analytics to optimize the operation of our key assets and improve the reliability of our electric grid,” said Vince Dow, Vice President Distribution Operations, DTE Energy.

Creating a Smarter Energy Environment
Expected outcomes of this research include equipping members with the ability to improve planning and reliability of operations through the use of prediction and optimization in the areas of outage and asset management. For example, the creation of coupled-predictive models allow for understanding, days in advance, the impact that a storm would cause on the electrical grid and preemptively position crews and resources to facilitate restoration efforts. A shift from “fixed” to “condition-based” maintenance plans based on model-driven asset failure predictions have the potential to deliver significant value creation opportunities for energy and utilities.

In the area of renewable and distributed energy resources, which are prone to extreme variability, members can leverage predictive and optimization technologies, increasing the accuracy of their forecasts to balance the supply and demand of electricity and take measures that ensure system reliability.

Using advanced computational techniques capable of analyzing streaming data from sensors across the grid in near real-time enable more dynamic monitoring of the entire power system across large geographic areas, and offers the potential to reach even higher levels of performance and cost-effectiveness through improved situational awareness.

As a result, members can better navigate the transforming energy and utilities environment, collecting insights from the vast amount of information pervading their networks and systems, add further intelligence to the smart grid and uncover new ways that improve business and operational outcomes.

Our mission is about bringing research and the energy industry closer together to work jointly on areas critical to the industry’s transformation, and for members to become major beneficiaries in extracting value from the information and communication technology revolution. Working collaboratively across disciplines, institutions and geographies has been proven time and again at delivering superior innovation results” said Dr. Dario Gil, the Smarter Energy Research Institute’s Director, and Director of Energy and Natural Resources for IBM Research. 

Innovation Model
The Smarter Energy Research Institute represents a new form of collaborative innovation for the energy and utilities industry and is modeled after programs that IBM has successfully implemented with clients in other areas, placing scientists with members from other disciplines and industries, working side-by-side to research and develop new breakthroughs.

Members will focus on specific research projects with IBM scientists aimed at solving some of the industry’s biggest challenges. These are caused in part by technology advancements that increase complexity across networks, by participatory networks that allow customers to consume and generate power and by the need to integrate renewable forms of energy safely and reliably into the grid.

The Institute is also an extension of IBM’s long-term alliance with the energy and utilities industry as it moves forward through its most challenging transformation. In 2003, IBM co-founded the US-based GridWise Alliance that advocates for grid modernization, and in 2007, IBM formed the Global Intelligent Utility Network Coalition (GIUNC), a coalition of players in the energy and utilities market, which is helping accelerate the adoption and use of smart grid technologies and bringing digital intelligence to current systems.

As part of their participation, each member obtains usage rights for all the innovations (e.g. algorithms, software, patents) created by every participant of the Institute. By working together and sharing the results of projects being undertaken across the Institute, members can benefit from the collection of new analytics-driven solutions throughout their enterprises.

The Smarter Energy Research Institute operates out of the global network of IBM Research labs, while simultaneously leveraging additional research and infrastructure operated by the members. It is equipped with state-of-the-art computational infrastructure to pursue its innovation agenda.

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