Israeli tech to keep an eye on ‘electricity gluttons’

Smart grids are the new hope for utilities, and a German energy giant is aiming to build one with technology from Israel

Illustrative photo of electric grid wiring (Photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash 90)
Illustrative photo of electric grid wiring (Photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash 90)

The business of electric companies is to sell electricity, but managing the power that they sell – to ensure that there is enough to go around – is one of their biggest challenges.

In the past, the only way to get “power gluttons” to save electricity was to harangue them via public service announcements or appeals by mail, but in the Big Data era, companies have a lot of new resources to ensure that customers use only their fair share.

To develop some of that technology, German energy giant RWE AG, one of the five largest energy and gas companies in Europe, is opening an innovation center in Israel in order to develop tech for a smart grid – a metering system that will keep track of how consumers use electricity.

The launch of the Israel Innovation Center, the company said, was “spurred by the desire to be connected and present in the vibrant Israeli hi-tech eco-system, enabling it to identify and connect with innovative technologies which can enrich RWE’s business offerings, and contribute to its customers.”

Smart grids sit at the junction of two tech areas Israel specializes in – networking and big data – and several start-ups have already deployed systems that help regulate electricity use.

To some, the concept of a smart grid/smart home metering system – in which the electric utility will be able to see how specific appliances are being used – sounds a bit invasive, but utilities believe they have no option, said Cisco chairman John Chambers on a recent visit to Israel. “It’s all part of the digital revolution, helping companies to save money and allocate resources more efficiently. Grids will be automated, to ensure that the right amount of power is provided for the needs of customers, with equipment set up in each area to survey usage and transfer the data to a server, where a decision will be made on how to deploy resources.”

Smart technology can also be used to prevent problems on the grid. Israeli start-up EGM (Electric Grid Management), uses sensors placed along transmission lines to gather data about processes and analyzes it, and sends out data that is collected and displayed on a graphical user interface, that shows real-time information on things electricity grid managers worry about – value measurement, frequency measurement, frequency deviation, and more. The system can detect if a piece of equipment like a transformer or isolator has a malfunction, “leaking” electricity. With the EGM system, an alert pinpoints exactly where there is an anomaly (i.e., too much or too little) in the flow of electricity, setting off an alarm that will enable utility workers to pinpoint the exact location of the problem, and fix it. The company’s solution was recently chosen by IBM to be part ot its electrical grid management and analytics program, which has thousands of customers around the world.

That’s the kind of tech RWE hopes to develop in Israel for its own 16 million electricity customers and nearly eight million gas customers, said Dr. Inken Braunschmidt, head of Innovation at RWE, who recently visited Israel for a first-hand view of its tech ecosystem. “It’s a result of our new strategic direction, and since we are aware of the leadership of Israel in the areas of ICT and Cyber security, we believe and expect to benefit from the Israeli innovation and to leverage our own activities in the new areas we are exploring. The decision to open the innovation center in Israel is a strategic one, to give us direct access to Israeli talent and innovation, by having a dedicated local presence which will identify and connect us with the right business opportunities“

Directing the new innovation center will be Mickey Steiner, formerly a managing director at the Israel R&D center of Germany’s SAP.

“I am fully aware of the potential of the Israeli hi-tech sector, and our ability to identify excellent collaboration opportunities for the benefit of RWE,” said Steiner. “The new fields of interest of RWE, and its size and market footprint, are an excellent opportunity for Israeli entrepreneurs and companies who are in our fields of interest. We are interested in Smart Home, Smart Grid, Holistic Energy Management, Big Data Analytics, Cyber Security, and Electric Mobility. These areas are not traditional areas of interest to energy companies like RWE, and signal the intent of RWE to re-invent itself.”

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