The cloud is everywhere in the business world, and it’s no different for utilities and companies making energy efficiency upgrades. From building management systems to home energy systems to meter data management, cloud-computing platforms have started to become a dominant force in smart grid in the past year.  

To meet the needs of utilities that want well-integrated back-office software at a price they can afford, nearly every company is putting up a cloud offering.

Early last year, Verizon announced a partnership with eMeter to offer cloud-based meter data management for utilities. The service leverages Verizon’s IP network to deliver scalable meter data management. The partnership with Verizon is a strategic decision to make it easier for utilities to jump into managing their data without the huge upfront capital costs.

Ecologic Analytics, which was snapped up by Landis+Gyr earlier this year, has a hosting service, while Itron is working with IBM, SAP and Teradata to set up a meter data warehousing and analytics system for Southern California Edison. Aclara, which controls many of the consumer engagement sites for utilities, has also long been using the cloud.

Although a system hosted in the cloud could offer greater flexibility for large utilities such as SCE, it is also a chance for the munis and co-ops to get more robust MDM offerings at a lower cost.

For utilities, the savings can be significant. Hardware has typically been the bulk of project cost in the past, but Palo Alto found that the meter data management cost was estimated at 40 percent of the AMI implementation, or about $6 million total.

Nearly every smart grid vendor has said that the muni and co-op market is a focus for 2012, now that the stimulus funds have all been doled out and very large investor-owned-utility smart grid contracts are few and far between.

Winning the smaller markets means having a price point that the lean utilities can absorb and see value from almost immediately. For many, that means a cloud application for back-end systems.

Cloud computing is also being sold, especially to smaller utilities, for a range of other applications, such as distribution automation and demand response.

Lockheed Martin has integrated its demand response capabilities in a cloud platform specifically for the co-op market. General Electric has taken it a step further in a project with Norcross, GA to do various distribution automation services via the cloud.

Proximetry, which works with Cisco, also offers a cloud-based network management service for utilities to manage the whole of their communications networks, which could cover the distribution side.

Cloud applications are increasingly popular for in-house and DA applications, but they are arguably even more popular for consumer-facing energy platforms, and not just customer web portals.

There is hardly a home energy management vendor that does not host some, or all, of their data in the cloud. EcoFactor, Opower, Tendril, PassivSystems, ThinkEco, Honeywell, and EnergyHub are just a few of the names that leverage the cloud to deliver everything from HVAC management and utility alerts to solar PV monitoring and EV charging updates.

With the cloud, however, comes great responsibility. Consumers are not only concerned with what the utility is doing with their data, but are also anxious about who else could hack into it. Opower, which is teamed up with Honeywell for cloud-connected thermostats, released its own set of data principles around access, transparency and security of the information with which the company has been entrusted. 

Although many consumers have no problem banking or managing their personal and business email using cloud computing, the question of security when it comes to energy information is often raised. As the cloud becomes ubiquitous in smart grid, others will likely publish very clear data principles similar to those developed by Opower to reassure customers about how their information is being stored. Other companies, like FutureDash, are trying to distinguish themselves by talking about security provisions that protect information going up to the cloud. 

Homeowners will also likely use the cloud for more than just energy. Lowe's launched its Iris platform earlier this year, which will use the cloud for an entire connected home, from security to energy to comfort. 

The individual homeowner is just one part of the consumer-facing proposition of cloud-based energy services. Building management is also increasingly moving to the cloud, a trend that could increase the availability for medium and small commercial, which, like munis and co-ops, do not have deep enough pockets or the need for some of the more full-fledged building management systems. From big legacy companies like Siemens and Honeywell to startups like SCIEnergy, nearly every building management has, or is moving toward, a cloud-based solution for owners.  

To hear more about how the cloud is being leveraged in smart grid, join Greentech Media in Raleigh-Durham on April 4-5 for The Networked Grid, where we will dive into the role of cloud-based services for utilities and energy efficiency.