Navigant Research Blog

The Internet of Things and Time Series Data

— December 21, 2016

Cloud ComputingThrough the Internet of Things (IoT), the world is becoming more and more interconnected and intelligent. Enormous amounts of data are being generated while the cost to store it is decreasing. Consequently, companies are looking to leverage this data to conduct analysis and deliver insight into their businesses. According to Navigant Research, IoT will represent a $500 million addressable market by 2020; most industries are expected to transform themselves in some way as homes, offices, cars, and even healthcare services become smarter through IoT devices.

Among all types of data, time series data (e.g., data from sensors) is becoming the most widespread. Unfortunately, collecting, storing, and analyzing massive amounts of this data is often not possible with traditional SQL databases. The challenge with time series data is that reads and writes to the database must be fast, reliable, and scalable.

What Is Time Series Data?

Time series data is any data that has a timestamp, such as IoT device data, stocks, and commodity prices. This data also often has very high write volumes, so it must be compressed and yet must also be easy to retrieve. While storing time series data is not a new challenge, the need to collect and analyze massive amounts of it from thousands of devices is a more recent requirement. Traditional SQL databases are not designed to manage time series data as these databases input each data point separately, thereby creating a massive number of duplications.

With such high volumes of information, it can be challenging to find a simple, scalable solution to easily store and access data. However, there are distributed NoSQL databases geared toward time series data storage that are designed to scale horizontally, making it easier to add capacity. Some of these databases and their users include:

  • InfluxData InfluxDB: Used by Nordstrom, Cisco, eBay, SolarCity, and Telefonica
  • Elasticsearch: Used by Verizon, Symantec, Facebook, Salesforce, Emerson, and Esri
  • IBM Informix: Used by Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, and NASA
  • Kairos DB: Used by Proofpoint, Enbase, Abiquo,  and Lampiris
  • Basho Riak TS: Used by The Weather Company

What’s Next?

Tremendous value can be generated by deriving insights from times series data. Example use cases include utilities with smart meters that create billions of data points a year; smart building companies that detect security break-ins or inefficient energy usage in real time; and vision sensors in autonomous vehicles that collect critical data to guide driving. The possibilities for IoT and time series data are profound, but the technology requires high-speed data processing, storage, and analytics in order to be as effective as possible.


Energy Efficiency Is Not Lost in the Supermarket

— July 18, 2016

ControlsLast month, national grocery store chain Trader Joe’s made headlines when it agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from refrigeration equipment at 453 of its stores. The federal government alleged that Trader Joe’s had violated the Clean Air Act by failing to repair leaks of R-22, which is used as a coolant in refrigerators but which also depletes the ozone and has 1,800 times more global warming potential than CO2. In addition, the government alleged that the company failed to keep appropriate service records.

Under the proposed settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Trader Joe’s will spend an estimated $2 million over the next 3 years to reduce its leak rate to less than half the average in the grocery store sector and to use non-ozone depleting refrigerants at all new stores. It also agreed to improve its leak monitoring and recordkeeping. This is the third settlement federal authorities have reached with a national supermarket chain over refrigeration practices. Previously, Safeway agreed to pay $600,000 in penalties and reduce its emissions in 2013. The following year, Costco also agreed to pay $335,000 in penalties and take similar emissions-reducing actions.

Reducing Operating Costs

An average-sized grocery store releases 1,900 tons of carbon emissions annually. By reducing the amount of ozone-depleting refrigerants and potent greenhouse gases, the Trader Joe’s settlement will help address major global environmental problems. An added benefit of repairing refrigerant leaks is improved energy efficiency of the system, which can save electricity. In fact, supermarkets are one of the most electricity-intense types of commercial buildings due to the large amount of power needed for food refrigeration. Refrigeration accounts for around 50% of electricity consumption in supermarkets. Every year, an average-sized grocery store spends more than $200,000 on energy costs. Consequently, energy efficiency technologies that help reduce energy consumption can significantly reduce operating costs and improve profit margins. According to ENERGY STAR, a 10% reduction in energy costs can boost net profit margins by as much as 16%.

Fortunately, there are ample energy efficiency and emissions-reducing investment opportunities for the retail sector. Some efficiency upgrades specifically target the supermarket segment and refrigeration practice. For example, Axiom Exergy’s Refrigeration Battery stores cooling, not electricity. The battery stores refrigeration when electricity costs are the lowest and deploys it when electricity costs are the highest, reducing on-peak demand by up to 40%. Thermal storage tanks and software optimizing the charge cycle can be easily added on to an existing system.

The Retrofit Market

The average supermarket size in the United States is 47,000 square feet, placing these stores in the small and midsize building class. Navigant Research defines small and medium commercial buildings (SMCBs) as those ranging from less than 10,000 square feet up to 100,000 square feet, and most supermarkets fall under this class. While approximately two-thirds of the global building floor space is occupied by SMCBs and more than 90% of commercial buildings are small or midsize, SMCBs have not yet seen the same penetration of energy efficiency technologies as larger facilities. However, with the largest commercial buildings already engaged in energy efficiency retrofits, the focus is expected to shift to SMCBs. According to Navigant Research’s Energy Efficiency Retrofits for Small and Medium Commercial Buildings report, the SMCB retrofit market is expected to grow from $24.1 billion in 2016 to $38.6 billion in 2025.


China’s EV and EV Batteries Policy: An Update

— April 25, 2016

BatteriesWith some of the worst air pollution on the planet, China has been aggressively pushing for emissions reductions and sustainable development since the launch of its 12th Five-Year Plan. In March 2016, the 13th Five-Year Plan covering 2016 to 2020 was released. Some of the key goals include a 15% energy intensity reduction and an 18% carbon intensity reduction compared to 2015 levels. With air quality in the country being at such poor levels, the government is highly interested in new energy vehicles (NEVs)—referring to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs)—to curb emissions.

Backed by government support, the Chinese EV market has made headlines in recent years. The country is on track to achieve its goal of putting 5 million electric passenger vehicles and buses on the road by 2020. Over 300,000 NEVs were sold in 2015, amounting to approximately 500,000 in cumulative deployment by the end of 2015. Plus, the government plans to increase the share of NEVs in government fleets from 30% to 50% in 2016.

New Stance on Subsidies

Although the Chinese EV market has made significant progress thanks to generous subsidies, the handouts have encouraged subsidy frauds as well. Finance Minister Lou Jiwei expressed concerns over the NEV industry’s heavy reliance on subsidies in January 2016. NEV development appears to be driven by policy incentives more than technological breakthroughs, to the extent that there has been a spate of media coverage about subsidy frauds in China in the last few months. For example, a company might assemble substandard NEVs and sell them to its own car rental company with the intent of receiving subsidies. The deficient NEVs are then left in parking lots and not put into actual use. Another common scheme is to sell license plates on the black market.

Consequently, the central government launched a fraud investigation and vowed to severely punish those involved in fraudulent schemes. Additionally, the government plans to end NEV subsidies after 2020 to encourage technological innovation. China plans to cut subsidies by 20% between 2017 and 2018 from 2016 levels and by 40% between 2019 and 2020, eventually leading to a phaseout after 2020.

Battery Technology Strategy

Chinese leaders are aware of the need to improve the country’s EV battery technology in order to stay competitive in the global NEV market. Therefore, the government’s decision to suspend subsidies for electric buses using nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) batteries is rather surprising. While most Chinese companies manufacture lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, the global market prefers NMC or lithium manganese oxide (LMO) batteries for their superior performance and efficiency. Some Chinese manufacturers are making NMC batteries but have not yet mastered the technology yet—there were six reported cases of EVs with NMC batteries catching on fire last year.

This policy change is expected to affect NCM battery manufactures in China since subsidies can account for nearly 40% of the price of an NEV, and buses represent nearly half of the NEV market. In particular, South Korean battery manufacturers made major investments in new NMC battery production facilities in China. LG Chem formed a joint venture with two state-owned enterprises in August 2014 with plans to generate $1 billion in revenue by 2020. Samsung also formed a joint venture with Anqing Ring New Group and real estate investor Xian with plans to invest $600 million by 2020. Since subsidies will continue to be given for less-advanced LFP batteries, many Chinese battery manufactures will enjoy government support in the short run. However, China’s long-term battery technology strategy remains uncertain.


IoT and Wireless Communications

— March 7, 2016

Network switch and ethernet cables,Data Center Concept.Whenever the Internet of Things (IoT) and building automation solutions are considered, the topic of wireless communications protocols is bound to enter the discussion. Wireless technology is gaining traction for a host of reasons—there’s no need to run wires, buy conduit, or drill holes into walls when going wireless. It also costs less to install wireless systems compared wired systems. Plus, a wireless system makes a compelling economic case in retrofit situations.

While going wireless may be an easy decision to make, there is a myriad of wireless communications protocol options from which to choose. Depending on the application, factors such as range, data requirements, security, power demands, and battery life often dictate the choice of a wireless communications protocol.

Wireless Communications Protocols

Wi-Fi has been the ubiquitous means for delivering connectivity for most in-building applications. However, Wi-Fi is not necessarily well-suited for IoT applications—it requires too much power and provides too much bandwidth for many applications. Over the past few years, several competing wireless standards have emerged to enable communications between devices for an IoT world. Currently, ZigBee is seemingly emerging as a leader through several collaborations. The standard and its proponents are cutting through the myriad of associations and alliances and attempting to establish a foothold in IoT communications.

Notably, ZigBee inked an agreement with the Thread Group to implement the former’s application library over the latter’s IP networking layer. Additionally, ZigBee and EnOcean announced a collaboration to develop interoperable, self-powered IoT solutions over the 2.4 GHz frequency band in December 2015. This is important because if industry coalesces around a single standard and IoT really takes off, the shipment volume of whatever that standard will be has the potential to dwarf the shipment volume of Wi-Fi.

ZigBee and EnOcean Collaboration

The collaboration between ZigBee and EnOcean is an exciting endeavor. Considering that ZigBee is more prominent in North America and EnOcean is more popular in Europe, the technical specifications that combine the ZigBee solution with the EnOcean equipment profiles will allow wireless device manufacturers to access both the North American and European markets. These manufacturers will also be able to explore additional fields of applications to grow their business for self-powered innovations. The definition of this technical specification is pending completion by the second quarter of 2016.


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