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Microsoft eyes smart grid with utility software

Reference architecture is designed for utilities that need to integrate their IT systems and collect more customer usage data in smart-grid programs.

Microsoft, angling for a bigger piece of the utility business, said Tuesday that it has developed an architecture tailored for utility smart-grid programs.

The Smart Energy Reference Architecture (SERA) is meant to give utilities a blueprint for integrating and modernizing their IT systems. Microsoft said that its software will work with devices specific to the power industry and help utilities better handle an anticipated wave of real-time data.

Governments around the world are offering billions of dollars to entice utilities to upgrade their electricity distribution networks. These smart-grid programs can take many forms: smart meters that transmit information every few minutes to utilities; sensors on power lines to spot outages; or routers in substations to transmit information back to utilities.

In nearly every case, there's a large IT component to smart-grid programs because utilities expect to collect more usage information from customers in order to run their distribution grids more efficiently.

Earlier this year,Microsoft released Hohm, a Web application aimed at helping consumer reduce their energy use at home. A component of the application was aimed at utilities, though. One business model Microsoft is exploring is aggregating customer energy usage data and providing it to utilities looking for ways to lower electricity use during peak times.

With its utility push, Microsoft joins the large IT companies--Cisco Systems, IBM, Oracle, and SAP--that have or are developing product suites aimed at grid modernization.