Schneider snags Viridity to see how many watts servers suck

Schneider Electric filled in some checkboxes in its overall data center infrastructure management (DCIM) stack with the acquisition of Viridity’s EnergyCenter technology. EnergyCenter will bring Schneider a fuller picture of the energy cost and resource utilization of information technology gear.

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Siemens is sitting on a huge pile of cash — what’s it going to spend it on? According to a Bloomberg article that ran over the weekend, the German engineering and power giant’s acquisition targets could include big U.S. smart meter maker Itron, among other potential smart grid buys. According to Bloomberg’s calculations, Siemens has the second-biggest cash reserves of any major corporation, with  18.5 billion euros ($27 billion), double its stash from three years ago. Siemens has made some smaller acquisitions, such as air conditioning automation company Site Controls. But it hasn’t participated yet in some of the billion-dollar acquisitions coming from its competitors in the smart grid space. France’s Schneider Electric has been buying tons of smart grid companies, most recently pledging to spend $2 billion to pick up smart grid software player Telvent — a move that tracks fellow grid giant ABB’s $1 billion pickup of grid software vendor Ventyx last year. General Electric has agreed to spend $3.2 billion to buy power conversion and automation company Converteam, and has been strategically investing in data center management and building automation companies. As for smart meters, Toshiba’s $2.3 billion purchase of Swiss metering giant Landis+Gyr has given the staid world of meter-making a new boost. Itron is publicly traded, so a move to buy Itron would be much more public than the behind-the-scenes bidding for the privately-held L+G. I’m curious to see what develops.

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Big news on the smart grid acquisition front this morning from everyone’s favorite smart grid acquirer. French power gear giant Schneider Electric has announced a $1.36 billion offer for Telvent, the energy software and IT firm that’s one of the bigger players in smart grid deployments in Europe. The deal won’t come cheap for Schneider, which is offering $40 a share for Telvent, a 36-percent premium on its average share price over the past three months. Telvent, which is partially owned by Spanish energy giant Abengoa, could offer Schneider a major foothold in the IT side of the smart grid, where Schneider now primarily plays as a supplier of low and medium-voltage equipment and as a system integrator. That could give Schneider a competitive stance against rival ABB, which bought smart grid software vendor Ventyx last year. Of course, Schneider has been the most aggressive buyer in the smart grid space, with nearly a dozen deals announced over the past 12 months, including a $268 million purchase of energy procurement specialist Summit Energy, deals to buy data center equipment provider Lee Technologies and Indian cable provider Digilink. Schneider’s offer for Telvent would be one of its largest deals yet, though not the largest it has floated. In April, rumors surfaced that it would bid as much as $30 billion for conglomerate Tyco International, but after shareholders drove down Schneider’s shares, the company reassured investors it would seek smaller buys.

How Federal Legislation Could Change Digital Energy Data

The emergence of the smart grid means that a wealth of energy data is starting to pour from the power grid. Utilities and startups want to leverage that data to deliver services to customers and make money in the process — all while protecting that data from misuse. California has made some recent steps to introduce data privacy rulings around consumer energy data, but a new Senate bill introduced last week would move these questions to a national stage.
The federal Electric Consumer Right to Know Act, or e-KNOW Act, has the support of smart grid industry advocacy group Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition (DRSG) and member companies like Schneider Electric, Tendril and others (PDF). While the current gridlock in Congress makes passage of any bills uncertain this year, it’s likely that e-KNOW will serve as an important template for federal energy data regulations down the road.
Federal Versus State Rules

The e-KNOW Act would put a single federal agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), in charge of setting guidelines for just how the bill’s requirements are to be enforced. A bill that runs only 10 pages long can’t settle every detail, of course, and e-KNOW would give FERC up to six months to establish “minimum national standards” for states and utilities to adopt. FERC will be asked to work with the Department of Energy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and state utility commissions to set up these rules.
This would be a major change in the way utilities are now regulated, which is mainly on a state-by-state basis. Besides California, states such as Texas, Pennsylvania and Colorado are also busy working on their own rules. No doubt smart grid industry groups like DRSG and others are eager to see how such overarching federal rules will help, or hinder, the ways they plan to do business, and how they may affect or alter the state-by-state rules they’re already looking to comply with.
The Balance of Making Data Available and Keeping it Private

Under e-KNOW, utilities will need to offer customers with smart meters access to the data from the meter itself. That in turn could provide an incentive for utilities that haven’t yet to switch on their meters’ meter-to-home networking systems. Smart grid players that can help utilities make the transition smoothly could reap those benefits by landing more utility contracts.
The bill also says that customers own their own data and can share it with third parties of their choosing. For utilities that haven’t given customers smart meters yet, the act requires an alternate route by which to share data from the utility, such as a system like Google’s PowerMeter, which delivers backhaul data from utilities to customers.
At the same time, utilities would be required to protect customers’ data security and privacy. In fact, e-KNOW appears to prioritize these requirements over data delivery, stating that any system that utilities choose “shall not interfere with or compromise the integrity, security, or privacy of the operations of a utility and the electric consumer.”
Just how utilities and smart grid vendors will both deliver data in the fastest, most technologically advanced means possible and protect that data from misuse or theft remains to be seen. Some smart grid companies are seeking to monetize customer energy data, whether by analyzing it to improve the service they deliver to customers or putting it to their own moneymaking uses. We’ll see if these business plans conflict with consumer data privacy policies to emerge from e-KNOW.
The Costs Involved
E-KNOW states that customers should be able to access their energy data “free of charge” but also would allow utilities to “recover in rates the cost of providing the information, if the cost is determined reasonable and prudent.” In other words, utilities can pass the costs on to customers via rate increases rather than up-front charges.
Some observers have noted that the costs of giving consumers their energy data could quickly overwhelm utilities, particularly when privacy protections need to be taken into account. Startups or businesses that can offer utilities a cheap yet secure technology and business model for getting this data delivered to customers will likely see a lot more acceptance with utility customers.

Question of the week

How might federal legislation on consumers’ right to know their own energy usage data change the smart grid industry.

Today in Cleantech

Progress on the data center energy efficiency integration front this week, as Swiss power gear giant ABB and Santa Clara, Calif.-based startup Power Assure show off their latest interoperable data center management platform. I covered Power Assure’s data center IT management technology and its partnership with strategic investor ABB in my weekly update this week, and this latest news gives more details on how the two are working together. Specifically, Power Assure’s Dynamic Power Management and Dynamic Power Optimization software, which monitors real-time server power usage to optimize computing-to-power metrics, now integrates with ABB’s System 800xA Extended Automation platform, which ties in data center facility systems like cooling and air handling. ABB’s platform is also tied in with IEC 61850, Europe’s leading distribution grid and substation communication standard, by the way, which means it can integrate upwards to smart grid systems. Consider it one of many projects aimed at tying green data centers and smart grid together. French power gear giant Schneider Electric, which is already working with IBM on data center-university campus power management projects, bought Virginia-based data center optimization company Lee Technologies earlier this month, and General Electric bought data center power conversion equipment maker Lineage Power Holdings for $520 million in January.

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Will building energy efficiency be the next greentech boom sector — and does that mean it’s becoming a bubble? Yes, and yes, are the answers from a Lux Research report this morning that predicts a boom next year, and a bust by 2015, in the building energy efficiency IT sector. The McKinsey Curve teaches us that energy efficiency is the cheapest, most cost-effective green investment out there. But with the real estate downturn and economic malaise, building owners want cheap and scalable solutions, not big retrofit projects — and software, sensors and systems integration technologies are just the ticket. That’s led to a spate of acquisitions in the space — for example, Schneider Electric bought two French building software startups last week and Siemens acquired HVAC-room occupancy optimizer Site Controls in October. The same goes for the IT giants getting into building energy controls — Cisco started its EnergyWise and Building Mediator business line by buying Richards-Zeta Building Intelligence last year, for example. Who’s next to be bought? Lux names a few building efficiency IT startups it likes, including Microstaq, Cimetrics and Optimum Energy.

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The Department of Energy quietly handed out about $19 million in grants for some interesting smart grid projects earlier this week, three of them led by smart grid giants and two by startups. On the giant side, France’s Areva T&D (now being acquired by Schneider Electric) will work with Duke Energy and PNNL to integrate renewable power into the grid, Swiss grid giant ABB will build a more reliable grid with Xcel Energy and Texas A&M, and aerospace giant Boeing will build a secure distribution grid control network with Chicago utility ComEd and startups including Viridity Energy and EDSA. The remaining two grants go to On-Ramp Wireless, which will work with San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison on wireless communications for hard-to-reach grid assets like underground sensors, and Varentec, which has power electronics with batteries included to manage distributed power it will test in a project that includes New York’s ConEd, LED giant Cree and grid controls giant S&C Electric.

How to Capture Building Management’s Untapped Middle Market

In the building energy management sector, mid-size commercial properties like restaurants and stores are relegated to the industry’s untouched middle territory. But the right combination of low-cost and enhanced customer service could crack open this untapped market.