IBM Bringing World’s First Whole-Nation “Smart Grid” to Malta

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Computer chip giant IBM snagged another deal in its quest to fast-track adoption of its "smart grid" technologies — a $90 million plan to digitize the national grid in the Mediterranean island nation of Malta.

The five-year effort will turn Malta into the first nation in the world with universal implementation of smart electric and water meters. It will also give IBM an international showcase for its smart grid capabilities.

"We see the Smart Grid as a critical enabler for economic growth on a global scale and it’s inspiring to see Malta take such a strong leadership position," said Guido Bartels, General Manager Global Energy & Utilities Industry at IBM.

According to its press release, IBM will work with Malta national utilities — Enemalta Corp. and Water Services Corp — to replace all 250,000 analog electricity meters with new smart electronic devices. When complete, the project "will completely transform the relationship between Maltese consumers and utilities suppliers, while enabling more efficient consumption of energy and water," said IBM.

Specific benefits include:

Reduction of losses: commercial losses will be reduced and technical losses will be more easily identified through monitoring of electricity and water grids.

• Remote management of electricity supply: no local intervention to activate, reduce, increase or terminate supply, thereby reducing connection time.

• Energy efficiency: the system will enable sophisticated analysis of consumption patterns enabling a real-time view of energy use to identify opportunities for reduction.

• Customer portal: customers will have an Internet window to their technical and commercial data, to track current consumption and choose the most appropriate agreements.

Smart grids are, in a nutshell, a collection of "intelligent" technologies, which taken together improve the efficiency of a nation’s current generating facilities and accommodate the integration of clean energy sources. Needless to say, their time has come. In fact, the whole exploding sector is expected to go bonkers in 2009.

For its part, IBM has been investing aggressively in the technology for years. On top of the Malta deal, it has also bagged a number of pilot projects with major utilities, including Ohio-based American Electric Power, Michigan utility Consumers Energy and Texas’ CenterPoint.

This past December, IBM advised the new Obama administration on the job-creation impact of an American smart grid. Here’s the data it delivered: A $50 billion investment in smart grid deployment over the next five years, or $10 billion a year, would create 239,000 new US jobs. (Of note: Obama’s House-passed stimulus measure, and the Senate’s latest version, include $11 billion in smart grid grants and loan guarantees.)

In November, IBM announced an ambitious smart grid research project with Europe’s leading electricity producer, EDF. And before that, in 2007, it spearheaded the launch of the Global Intelligent Utility Network Coalition, a group of utility companies working with IBM to accelerate smart grid adoption. The total number of consumers served by the coalition is more than 50 million worldwide — and growing.

Truth is, IBM has been so aggressive in the smart grid sector that the Malta deal is almost small potatoes in comparison. As Greentech Media notes:

Bringing smart meters to Malta — which has a population of about 403,000 and a land mass slightly less than twice that of Washington, D.C. — might well rank among one of IBM’s smaller efforts.

All said, smart grids are all the rage, all over the world, even earning a plug in GM’s Superbowl spot before an audience of nearly 100 million.

Let’s hope it stays that way because "stupid" aging grids of today waste dirty energy, resulting in excess CO2 emissions and accelerated global warming. In fact, according to IBM, the losses of electrical energy due to grid systems that aren’t "smart" range as high as 40 to 70 percent around the world.


See also:

"Exercise in Utility," IBM’s quick and clever run down of the smart grid solution: