Navigant Research Blog

Move Over Alexa! Text Messaging Wants a Seat, Too

— March 28, 2017

Using your voice to control your smart home might not become as popular as previously thought. Text messaging is looking for a seat at this table, too—especially for controlling smart appliances.

Ever since Amazon’s Echo device, better known as Alexa, stormed the market, voice activation has dominated smart home technology. This device was the star at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, where vendors of smart home and Internet of Things devices and services clamored to stay in Alexa’s orbit. For example, Google’s voice-activated Home device now competes with Alexa for market and mind share. Home, launched in late 2016, gets prominent retail display inside Verizon Wireless stores and seems to be riding in Alexa’s wake.

A New Use for an Older Technology

But an older technology lurks: text messaging. Unified Inbox, a small Singapore company, offers a text messaging service that has attracted the attention of several major appliance manufacturers, including Bosch. The service works by adding a user’s home to a contacts list in an app like WhatsApp; a message such as “preheat the oven to 300 degrees at 5:00 p.m.” can then get passed to an oven.

While this type of text messaging has yet to catch on with consumers, some technology leaders, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, are fans. Zuckerberg has been tinkering with Jarvis, his own voice-activated artificial intelligence program. He has discovered that he prefers text, mostly because the use of it feels less disturbing to people around him compared to voice-activated devices.

Texting has its place, and it should take hold among consumers in the coming months and years. However, the pace of adoption could be muted in the United States, where smart appliances are not that attractive to consumers. A report by Mintel last year found that 56% of respondents are willing to pay more for an energy efficient washing machine (good for consumers and utility demand-side management programs). Yet, just 11%-12% would pay more for a washing machine with smart features—including the ability to diagnose problems or monitor and control the machine from a mobile device.

An Open Question

Smart or connected appliances have already entered the market, and Navigant Research expects steady growth for this category going forward (see our Market Data: IoT for Residential Energy Customers report). But how people will interact with these smart appliances is still an open question. Voice activation has its place, but there is room for other user interfaces such as text messaging. The view here is that multiple interfaces will be available, and users will have to decide how best to control their own smart devices. There is no clear winner here—at least for the near term.

 

IoT and Millennials

— March 24, 2017

The much studied Millennial generation has some issues with Internet of Things (IoT) devices. A new survey says this cohort of young American adults—ages 18 to 29—is the least likely to own an IoT product. This trend presents a challenge for utilities attempting to promote programs like demand response that can link to IoT products such as smart thermostats, air conditioners, or appliances.

According to the study conducted by the Association of Energy Services Professionals and strategic marketing firm Essense Partners, 85% of Millennial respondents do not own IoT devices. The percentage of non-IoT device owners in the other age groups is as follows: 79% for ages 30-44; 81% for ages 45-59; and 84% for the 60 and older group. The study was conducted among 2,700 consumers.

Among respondents who do own IoT devices, the Millennials also represent the least likely cohort to take part in utility programs. They participate at half the rate of those in the 30-44 and 45-59 age groups, and almost a third of the rate compared to the 60 and older set.

Of course, the main reason for lower ownership of IoT devices among Millennials is they are less likely to be homeowners. Therefore, they are not as likely in the market to buy IoT devices that can help manage energy usage.

But there is another reason lurking around the edges: they are worried the most about the devices being hacked. In a survey conducted by KPMG, 74% of Millennials say they would use more IoT devices if they had more confidence that the devices were secure. Among the other age groups, 63% of Generation Xers hold the same view about device security and nearly half of Baby Boomers (47%) say the same.

Part of the Solution: Device Security Standards

One way to boost confidence among consumers and drive adoption of IoT devices is for industry stakeholders to agree on security standards. An effort that has surfaced recently is being spearheaded by Consumer Reports (CR), which is promoting a digital consumer protection standard, along with its cyber expert partners (digital privacy tools provider Disconnect; privacy policy researcher Ranking Digital Rights; and Cyber Independent Testing Lab). The CR privacy standard has four key features: products should be built to be secure; products should preserve consumer privacy; products should protect the idea of ownership; and companies should act ethically. The full standard is in its first draft, and CR expects stakeholders to help shape and improve it going forward.

The need is evident for IoT device security standards such as CR’s and others like NIST’s Cybersecurity for IoT program and UL’s Cybersecurity Assurance Program. Navigant Research applauds these efforts to create standards, as noted in its report, Emerging IoT Business Models. Utilities would be wise to get behind these efforts as well to ensure that their customers, including skeptical Millennials, gain the confidence to adopt devices like smart thermostats and feel more willing to take part in demand-side management programs.

 

Tech Companies Signal Important IoT Infrastructure Moves

— February 24, 2017

Several influential high technology companies have recently announced new strategies and partnerships as they build out the foundations for the expanding Internet of Things (IoT). These moves are likely to have important implications for the energy sector as utilities and their customers adapt to and adopt emerging IoT technologies.

The recent announcements cover a range of IoT areas, including smart grid, security issues, industrial use cases, and payment management. Oracle and Huawei extended their cooperative smart grid efforts by signing a memorandum of understanding dubbed a power IoT ecosystem partnership. The new deal calls for both parties to promote and sell an end-to-end advanced metering infrastructure solution aimed at helping utilities improve customer experience, increase operational efficiency, save energy, and reduce emissions. For its part, Huawei will provide tools for managing smart meters, communications networks, and headend systems; Oracle will leverage its meter data management software, smart grid gateway, and related solutions for utilities.

Cybersecurity and the Industrial IoT

AT&T, IBM, and Nokia have formed a new alliance to beef up IoT security. The new group, IoT Cybersecurity Alliance, will not set standards, but will instead focus efforts on conducting research, educating consumers and businesses, and influencing standards bodies or policymakers. Symantec, Palo Alto Networks, and mobile security company Trustonic are also founding members of the alliance.

Meanwhile, Nokia, Qualcomm, and GE Digital announced the successful demonstration of a private LTE network aimed at the industrial IoT market, specifically targeting companies operating in remote locations or sites where connectivity can be difficult. This would be a good fit for some utilities or companies engaged in energy exploration. Live field trials of the private network are expected to continue throughout this year.

Nokia separately introduced its worldwide IoT network grid (WING) in a bid to boost the IoT market. The IoT grid as a service offering is aimed at enterprises seeking a one-stop-shop for IoT needs across multiple geographies.

Visa and IBM have established a new partnership that will utilize IBM’s Watson IoT platform for extending digital payments to wearables, connected cars, and other devices. The idea is to enable commerce from any connected thing. From a connected car perspective, this could be useful for EV owners who need to charge their vehicles and pay for the electricity in a more seamless way and from a variety of suppliers.

Signs of a Wider Trend

On their own, these moves might not amount to much. However, when seen as part of a larger IoT trend, they represent another milestone along the road toward a much more connected and automated world. For utilities and other stakeholders in the energy industry, it pays to stay abreast of these IoT moves, as many are likely to have an impact on both sides of the meter.

 

Transformative Winds Moving Electric Utility Industry in New Directions

— February 13, 2017

AnalyticsThere is a new wind of transformation blowing through the North American electric utility industry, and this change was palpable during the recent DistribuTECH conference in San Diego.

Evidence of a transformation came during numerous conversations I had with technology vendors and utility representatives at the conference. There has been similar talk of change at past D-Tech events, but this year the words have action and momentum behind them. Granted, the transformation taking place now remains at a relatively early stage in certain domains—microgrids and energy storage, for instance. Furthermore, some of the shifts currently taking place might still be struggling to gain traction 10 years from now. But as whole, changes in the industry are tangible and are moving beyond theoretical talk and pilots.

Among the innovations on display at D-Tech:

  • Microgrids: Schneider Electric and Duke Energy jointly announced the deployment of two advanced microgrids in Montgomery County, Maryland. The two systems will provide service to the county’s public safety headquarters and its jail. The goal is to ensure these facilities have more reliable and efficient power and to improve resiliency in the event of major storms or natural disasters. Perhaps the most unique aspect of this project is its microgrid as a service (MaaS) financing model. This arrangement eliminates many of the upfront costs to the county, making the microgrids more affordable to the municipal entity.
  • Customer-centric grid: Utilities are starting to more fully embrace the concept of customer-centricity. Oracle unveiled its new Network Management System version 2.3, which enables a utility to aggregate data from distributed energy resources (DER) like solar PV, EVs, customer-sited storage systems, and connected home devices. Oracle is not alone in providing tools for a deeper view of these customer energy resources, but the announcement does point to the demand the software vendor is seeing from utilities that recognize the shift taking place and the need to comprehensively manage the two-way data flow from grid-tied customer assets.
  • Demand-side solutions: Companies like Powerley and Tesla used the conference to demonstrate their solutions for enabling utility customers to better control their use of energy. Tesla, for instance, did not showcase its famous EVs, but rather its new Powerwall 2 residential battery system. The Powerwall 2 has 14 kWh of capacity, a significant increase from previous versions, and can enable a four-bedroom home to power lights, plugs, and a refrigerator for a whole day. Powerley’s solution helps utilities integrate the smart grid with smart home technologies, thus enabling residential customers to be more efficient energy users and save money.

Part of the transformation on display at D-Tech is being driven by regulators, which see the new technologies as helpful to a more efficient use of energy. But many of the new technologies on their own are driving the change, having been tested and proven to help solve utility business issues and demonstrate a positive ROI, either in real dollars or in softer benefits (such as increased customer satisfaction scores and greater engagement).

We at Navigant have seen this transformation coming for several years, as noted in our Energy Cloud report. Now those forces of change are closer to reality and catching some new air. The coming years should continue to move the industry forward, though some turbulence is to be expected.

 

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