Analytics and Energy: How IBM helped ESB Networks Keep Ireland Green

Helene Montpetit    November 5, 2014

IBM logo.svg

Company name: IBM

Industry: Computer hardware and software and IT Consulting

Description  IBM is a globally integrated enterprise operating in over 170 countries. Its stated mission is to bring innovative solutions to a diverse client base to help solve some of their toughest business challenges. The world’s largest IT and consulting services company, IBM is a leader in business and technology.


Company name: ESB Networks

Industry: Electric Power Distribution

Description ESB Networks Ltd. is the licensed operator of the electricity distribution system in the Republic of Ireland. It builds, operates, maintains and develops the electricity network and serves all electricity customers in the Republic of Ireland.

In the beginning was Big Data

Back in the 1960s, Richard Leghorn, founder of Itek Corporation, predicted the end of the Industrial Age and the ushering in of The Information Age. Since then, advances in information gathering and storage, transfer and processing, retrieval and analysis have certainly proven him right. According to a Tapscott Group study, every minute in 2012:

  • 48 hours of content was uploaded to YouTube
  • 47,000 apps were downloaded from Apple
  • 684,478 items were shared on Facebook
  • 100,000 new Tweets were broadcast on Twitter and
  • two million search queries were sent to Google

You read that right: every minute!

Add emails, banking records, browser logs, Smart phones and watches, fitness trackers, and the host of other devices currently used worldwide and you get an overwhelming quantity of data of every kind (Big Data).

This information explosion has led to the creation of analytics, a quickly growing sphere of activity that makes use of data to improve every aspect of human activity, from helping your grocery store manage its inventory to decoding your DNA.

So George Orwell also had it right: Big Brother definitely IS watching you! The good news is, if you process the right data in the appropriate way, you can tap into what he knows.

IBM developers of analytic solutions have a thorough understanding of Big Data and how to sift it down to manageable proportions. Listen to their approach and to the issues they addressed while coming up with a turnkey integrated digital platform for small businesses.

Physician, heal thyself!

IBM has been using social media internally for quite some time and has a research laboratory that develops tools, tests them through internal channels and refines them. The fact that IBM has also been applying analytics internally to improve its own performance was probably instrumental in its success with the Republic of Ireland’s smart integration of sustainable power production, effective distribution and efficient consumption.

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Making the sustainable dream a reality
In the early part of the 20th century, electrification was an important goal of the Western World. In most regions, coal, oil and gas were used to produce electrical power. This, of course left us with the problem of climate change. While these fossil fuels are still used in a great many countries, there is increasing pressure to move to renewable energies: wind, biogas, biomass and small hydro. The world has entered a transition phase, but there are many challenges to overcome on the way to greener power.

As discussed by Carol L. Stimmel of Manifest Mind, power companies are behind in using the available technology. So behind, in fact, that it motivated her to write her book on how they could use big data analytics.

Ms Stimmel firmly believes that the people who keep the grid going and drive the economy need to understand the language of Big Data. The impact of climate change alone should be sufficient to motivate the industry to attract technologically savvy people who are able to modernize the grid, a rather complex operation she aptly likens to changing worn out tires on your car while moving.

How the Republic of Ireland has approached the problem
One of the many difficulties encountered in moving toward sustainable power production is the bringing together of several disparate elements in a way that allows them to inform each other and work in harmony. Here is an overview of what was required for ESB Networks and IBM to build a smart, green power grid together:

More to come
The practical applications of analytics are numerous and very diverse, as you can tell simply by scanning through the articles published here. No doubt there is more to come in the field, as it is still in its infancy. In researching this article, for instance, I attended a fascinating webinar on sentiment analysis, the use of data culled from conversations on social media to discover trends as well as measure brand popularity through positive and negative comments.

As H.G. Wells would likely say: it’s a brave new world indeed.

Lessons learned:

  • There are huge amounts of data collected every day that can be put to use for all types of businesses.
  • Analytics is a tool that helps businesses make informed decisions that lead to better performance.
  • Companies such as IBM have now developed integrated systems that allow people who are not specialized in IT to access the information required to stay competitive.
  • Defining the problem and getting the right data are key to finding the right solutions for your business.
  • Complex systems such as power production, distribution and consumption can be made better through the use of analytics.
  • Bi-directional smart grid solutions are the future of energy production and distribution.

Submitted by: Hélène Montpetit, University of Waterloo Student.

Author Contact:

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Rethinking Analytics For The Social Enterprise, The Tapscott Group, 2012

Move Over Social Media; Here Comes Social Business, Bruce Neisser, Fast Company

What The Heck Is… Analytics? by Bernard Marr

Who Coined the Term “Information Age”?

IBM Business Case Highlights – ESB Networks