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IBM to help people monitor energy use

Created with energy consultant Hildebrand, Big Blue's new smart metering system is designed to help homeowners in the U.K. consume energy more efficiently.

IBM is hoping its new smart metering system can help homeowners learn to use energy more wisely.

Working with energy consultant Hildebrand, Big Blue has embarked on a new project designed to let people view their energy consumption in the home. Hildebrand's monitoring technology analyzes real-time electricity usage, even for individual appliances, to show folks just how much juice they're grabbing.

In a 30-month research project geared specifically for the U.K. and Bulgaria, Hildebrand installed small energy monitors at different homes in five European cities--Birmingham, Bristol, and Manchester in the U.K., and Plovdiv and Ivanovo in Bulgaria. Using IBM's software, the homeowners view online information that displays their electricity use, figures out the cost, and compares it with usage by other people.

"Giving citizens more information and better control over their energy use will cut down on costs and consumption as well as reduce their overall impact on the environment," Guido Bartels, General Manager of Energy and Utilities at IBM, said in a statement. "With this collaboration, we can demonstrate how smart and connected communities can be more energy conscious and, in turn, more sustainable."

Though the goal of the project is to help consumers make better decisions on how to manage their power needs, the study will also help researchers monitor the people themselves to measure their attitudes toward energy conservation.

On its end, IBM is supplying the Informix database software to grab the huge amount of data flowing through the system. The challenge is to capture time-series data, which are "pulses" of data that arrive at regular intervals. That can pose a problem for traditional databases, according to Hildebrand, but in initial tests, the Informix software proved up to the task.

"In the first proof-of-concept, we simulated 3 million homes sending readings once a minute and we were able to capture nearly 50,000 readings per second using only a quad-core, dual-processor Intel server," Clive Eisen, chief technology officer at Hildebrand, said in a statement. "In the second, we moved to a slightly larger server and found we could deliver analytics response times of between one and three seconds for a similar load. You don't need to understand the technical details--the point is that suddenly, energy monitoring for 3 million homes or more became a practical proposition."

This latest project is part of IBM's Smarter Planet program and follows the Smarter Building initiative to track and conserve energy use in buildings and factories.