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By Jeff St. John

Utility smart grid systems have a lot of technologies – both cutting-edge and decades-old ones – that need to be integrated for those systems to work.

They're also probably using Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) software at least somewhere in their operations. After all, what business isn't?

On Tuesday, Microsoft launched its second utility-specific software platform, aimed at making the integration of all those technologies with its own software platforms easier on utilities and their smart grid partners.

Microsoft Smart Energy Reference Architecture "provides guidance both to customers, so they can evaluate whether or not they're aligning with the reference architecture, as well as giving them a way to measure the viability of the solutions they might buy," said Larry Cochrane, Microsoft's worldwide utilities industry strategist and architect.

Microsoft cited several big-name energy and IT companies that have endorsed its SERA system, including consulting and technology services company Accenture (NYSE:ACN), French power giants Alstom Power (OTCPK:AOMFF) and AREVA (OTCPK:ARVCF), major smart meter maker Itron (NASDAQ:ITRI) and industrial and utility management software maker OSIsoft, among others.

With SERA, Microsoft would appear to be gathering partners to support further moves into supplying software to utilities seeking to add digital communications and distributed intelligence to their electricity grids.

It's similar to the promise that IBM has offered utilities and smart grid vendors through its Solution Architecture for Energy and Utilities Framework (SAFE) platform launched last month, which includes vendors such as Trilliant, BPL Global, Coulomb Technologies, eMeter, Itron, OSIsoft and PowerSense (see IBM, Cisco Look to Tie Up Smart Grid Partners).

Of course, IBM has scores of utility pilot projects and business relationships covering everything from back-office systems to smart meter management, renewable power integration and plug-in vehicle management (see IBM Tests Smart Charging in Denmark and A Feeling and Thinking Distribution Grid).

Microsoft has yet to name any utilities using SERA. But its broader list of software products do serve as the foundation of a host of products that are now being offered to utilities via Microsoft partners, Cochrane pointed out.

Still, Microsoft faces plenty of competition for the lucrative smart grid market, both for its supporting software products and its first utility-specific project, the Hohm energy portal it launched in June (see Microsoft Launches Home Energy Site, Sees Devices, Demand Management in Future).

Systems to monitor and control home energy use are being made by dozens of startups, but Microsoft also faces competition from fellow IT giant Google, which launched its PowerMeter platform in January (see Green Light post and Enel Considering Google's PowerMeter for Pilot Project).

Utilities are under regulatory pressure to make sure smart meter networks, distribution automation systems and back-office systems to handle the flood of smart grid data can interoperate using a set of standards still in the process of being defined.

The federal government, through the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is working on those interoperability and standards issues and hopes to have the most critical ones settled by the end of next year (see Smart Grid Standards Roadmap Unveiled).

"We're actively supporting NIST and the NIST standards activities in defining underlying standards for the smart grid," Cochrane noted, and "we see SERA as accelerating that entire process."

Getting one's technology vetted by the kind of frameworks that Microsoft and IBM have announced could be seen as one way to ensure that technology will adhere to those standards to come (see Green Light post).

The same could be said for Cisco's (NASDAQ:CSCO) announced "Smart Grid Ecosystem" which includes such partners as General Electric (NYSE:GE), SAIC, Arcadian Networks, Infosys (NYSE:INFY), CapGemini, Oracle (NYSE:ORCL), Itron (ITRI), Landis+Gyr, Siemens (SI), Schneider Electric (OTCPK:SBGSF) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ).

Cisco is making a big push to network the smart grid to come, which will require plenty of integration of legacy technologies in addition to the IP-based system Cisco would like to see predominate (see Cisco Wants to be Everywhere in Smart Grid).

Source: Microsoft to Play Utility Technology Matchmaker