In our last Energy 101 column, we looked at some of the home energy monitoring devices currently available and explored the ways that they can help us live more efficient, eco-conscious lives. But with smart grid technologies rapidly approaching, a new group of energy-tracking devices is emerging. We had the chance to speak with Drew Clark, Director of Strategy for IBM’s Venture Capital Group, about what the future holds for smart meter technology.
What kind of smart grid monitoring devices do you see on the horizon?
Drew: We’re seeing a new generation of start-up devices that will connect to utilities. We thought [energy monitoring devices] would have a telco or cable model originally–in other words, the utility would send you a monitoring device. But we’re seeing start-ups launching these things independent of utilities. The utilities aren’t the gating factor we thought they might be.
What are some of your favorite energy monitoring devices?
Drew: It’s too early to pick any winners, but we just met with one company called Energy Hub. They’re making a device to help consumers manage the electrical energy needs in their homes–appliances and large energy loads like hot water heaters. They plan on selling it in a piece-like fashion, with one module to start and additional devices available. Another company called Ecobee told me that they’re trying to model Apple’s iPhone — they want to be a platform. So they’ll open up their interface in an application store-like environment. They want to share the R&D burden across thousands of developers and at the same time provide a web-based marketplace where consumers can pick and choose.
Where does IBM fit into this?
Drew: IBM sees itself as the utility’s main partner in helping them understand this new market — to engage and integrate with these devices. We’re focused on advanced analytics and visualization. If there are millions of these devices around, how will utilities be able to make sense of data, visualize data? We architect and deliver solutions to utilities to create a 2-way dialogue. Pricing signals and data are coming one way, demand and consumer data are coming the other way.
When will we see a large-scale rollout of smart meters and energy monitoring devices?
Drew: That’s the four billion dollar question. What effect will the stimulus have on the deployment of these things? I don’t think anyone knows. Our hope is that in the next five to 10 years the majority of houses will be wired up. But it could take a decade. That said, IBM is rolling these things out weekly. All over the world, we’re installing smart meters and smart grid equipment. With the stimulus, we’re going to see an acceleration in the deployment of these networks.