Energy Australia has awarded IBM a $3.2 million contract to provide a real-time network monitoring system – the next step in the development of Energy Australia’a "smart grid" intelligent network program.

In April, IBM will begin construction of a distribution monitoring and control system for gathering and analysing raw data from 12,000 fibre-optic sensors which have already been installed in Energy Australia’s electricity distribution network. The system will allow Energy Australia staff to monitor the utility’s grid in real time.

By the end of June, Energy Australia will have completed a pilot to determine how to connect the "last mile" between the substation and the customer to gain an even more granular view of its network. The utility is currently trialling WiMAX technology in an area that serves about 100,000 customers in Newcastle. It is also trialling narrowband and broadband power line transmission technologies, standard 2G mobile networks and a wireless mesh network.

IBM is installing similar, although smaller, monitoring systems in Denmark and Malta but Energy Australia claims that it is the first utility in the world that is "committed to getting a street level view" of its electricity network.

Energy Australia intelligent networks manager Adrian Clark, said "It’s not just about responding to faults quicker or getting better power supply, it’s also about helping us to introduce and think of new ways to incorporate new energy initiatives such as renewable energy and load storage as they become more widespread on our grid.’