IESO taps IBM to manage data from smart metering initiative

Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator has teamed up with IBM to develop a smart meter data management system that will help the province’s residents take advantage of hour-by-hour billing to conserve power.

Part of the province’s Smart Meter Initiative, the contract is worth $43 million, which covers IBM’s designing, building, and operating for four years a meter data management/repository (MDM/R), which it will also house in its Toronto data centre. Local power distributors have been rolling out Ministry-approved smart meter systems since last year in preparation for the government target of having 800,000 installed in homes and small businesses by the end of 2007. Eventually, the plan is to have one in every Ontario home and small business by 2010. (Milton Hydro is the one company that has already implemented both smart meters and time-based billing, according to James Strapp, IBM’s advanced metering lead.)

The smart meters track energy use by the day and hour, and then transmit the data via telephone-based communications, powerline carriers, mesh technologies, Wi-Fi, or IP. When it comes to collecting and making sense of all this data, enter IBM. “The local distributors are responsible for putting the smart meters in. We’re in charge of building the system to manage the data they collect,” Strapp said. “We’ll validate the data, deal with what’s happening if data is missing, and change the data into a useable format for billing.”

An IBM subcontractor, eMeter, is providing the software, EnergyIP. Since the MDM/R will be used by dozens of distributors, a user-friendly interface is key.  “We’ll be using WebSphere Partner Gateway wrapped around the eMeter solution. If you have over 90 distributors using it and are interfacing with several different smart meter technologies, it will help with the communication back and forth,” said Strapp. The initial rollout is planned for June.

Strapp said that the program will be able to aggregate the electricity usage information into time-of-use buckets that will allow households and small businesses to make more energy-efficient choices when it comes to power usage.

“This will allow utilities to charge different prices for different times of day,” said Strapp. For instance, power companies can charge more for power during peak times.

“The higher the demand climbs, the more different kinds of power you need to provide, and it’s expensive for different kinds of generation, from water power on the lower end, to gas on the higher end,” said Independent Electricity System Operator director of communications Terry Young. If people know that power is more expensive during those peak times of the afternoon, it might encourage households and small businesses to use power more sparingly then and utilize power when it’s cheaper, such as the later evening.

Young said that, in 2006, out of the 8,760 hours in a year, there were only 32 hours (especially around the heat wave of August 1) that reached peak demand. “We don’t want to be building another generating plant for 32 hours,” Young said.

Another incentive could be the implementation of critical peak pricing, according to Strapp. This is where the distributor could anticipate a particularly hot day, for instance, where people would be using their air conditioner a lot. “The company would then declare (that day) a critical peak day and increase the price (of power), encouraging people to not use as much (electricity),” said Strapp.

Customers would also enjoy billing flexibility. IBM’s technology will eventually make it so that meter data could be available on the Web the day after. “Right now, the industry is decentralized — the many individual distributors collect data from the meters monthly or bimonthly. But now how often your meter is read will no longer be tied to a billing cycle,” according to Strapp, who said that companies would be required to submit their data to the MDM/R at least once a day.

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