Intel and SAP in stg£1.7m ‘smart grid’ R&D venture in Belfast

27 Jan 2011

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Chip giant Intel and business software giant SAP are establishing a stg£1.7m ‘smart grid’ R&D operation with the support of Invest NI. The new venture aims to focus on the role ICT will play in the smart grid and its impact on businesses and consumers.

The two companies two years ago established a research lab at SAP’s premises in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. The investment marks Intel’s first research presence in Northern Ireland.

The director of Intel Labs Europe Martin Curley told Siliconrepublic.com that the venture marks a novel new way of how corporations like Intel, SAP and Nokia conduct research in collaboration with third-level bodies.

“Rather than opening our own single labs, companies that see common technology ground are investing together in research labs. For example, we recently established a co-lab with Nokia.

“The other thing is this is a win-win for Northern Ireland because of the value this will have for graduates.”

Curley said he sees three major trends that the evolution of electricity ‘smart grids’ will have on the world. “We see mass collaboration, digital transformation and sustainable solutions emerging from this. If you think about machine-to-machine technology, for example, these devices will make the smart grid happen so we can optimise the balance between renewable energy, e-cars and also energy storage devices. All of these things will influence consumer behaviour because the role ICT plays in providing real-time information will mean consumers will for the first time enjoy dynamic pricing for their energy needs.

“At the core of this is ICT and Intel’s contribution of how we can change society.

“The opportunity is there to put devices into people’s homes or utilise their smartphones, connect to the back end of utilities and deliver lower prices for consumers, more efficiencies and better solutions,” Curley said.

Maher Chebbo, SAP, chairman of SmartGrids Demand, Metering & Retail group. told Siliconrepublic.com that the smart grid opportunity – in Europe it will involve the EU spending €2bn to support 40 national projects – is an opportunity to simplify energy provision. “How can we make it simpler so that we no longer see barriers between customers and retailers? Remove the walls so that we can have a collaboration that’s as easy as Facebook.”

He explained that by giving consumers basic awareness of their energy usage on devices like the iPhone or iPad would help reduce their energy consumption by 10pc.”

How the smart grid will change consumer behaviour forever

Curley said that utilities and the existing energy grid today are where telecoms was 20 years go. “There’s quite a lot we can learn from the telecoms sector and avoid dead ends.

“One of the big opportunities is changing end-user behaviour. As we get more micro-renewable solutions into the hands of consumers, consumers will become prosumers. ICT is going to be very important in terms of optimising supply and demand when the future smart grids are in place.”

Northern Ireland Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “This is a highly innovative and internationally significant initiative that promises to deliver exciting research results in the areas of ICT related energy efficiency and new computing technologies.

“Although SAP and Intel have engaged in research together before, this is the first time that they have established a shared physical location with pooled resources. It is significant that these major ICT multinationals chose Northern Ireland as the location for this initiative. It reflects their confidence in the IT skills available here and in particular, the high value they place on the opportunity to work closely with our universities.

“ICT is a priority sector for Invest NI, as it is a key driver for economic growth. This project will enhance Northern Ireland’s ability to attract further research and development investment in ICT,” Foster said.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com