Navigant Research Blog

Market Heats Up for IoT Energy Management Solutions

— February 1, 2018

Managing energy grids has grown ever more complex as the number of connecting devices has risen sharply. Millions of two-way communicating smart meters, pieces of advanced substation automation equipment, and distributed generation assets have come online in recent years, creating an intricate Internet of Things (IoT) network that can challenge even the best of grid managers. Connecting all these devices is a challenge, and is by no means trivial.

How Best to Organize and Interpret Data from Connected Energy?

The real test comes when trying to organize, make sense of, and glean valuable insights from the huge data volumes generated by these IoT devices and sensors. From there, the objective becomes turning those insights into useful and lasting applications for today and tomorrow. Solutions vendors have worked hard to meet their grid customers’ need for advanced technological tools to manage the data and applications. Lately, the vendors have developed some new offerings.

Platforms for Smart Cities and Utilities

Landis+Gyr launched its Gridstream Connect IoT platform, which is aimed at utility, smart city, and consumer applications. The platform is designed to integrate a variety of smart devices and utilize various communication protocols, including radio frequency mesh, LoRa, and cellular. The platform’s IPv6-based architecture can work independently with third-party devices and software to control street lights, solar inverters, EV charging stations, environmental sensors, and an array of distribution assets. The overarching idea is to provide utilities a way to leverage sensor technology at the grid edge for smart community and smart home applications, while also laying a foundation for future distribution strategies.

IoT Analytics

SAS and Trilliant joined forces to create a harmonized system that targets analytics for IoT. Under the agreement, SAS will contribute its event stream processing capabilities for structured and unstructured data, and provide machine learning technology for event detection, distributed energy resources optimization, and revenue protection. The SAS pieces will be matched with data from Trilliant’s real-time, multi-technology, multi-application networking platform. The two firms are already working jointly with the town of Cary, North Carolina, where they are in the middle of deploying analytics-based applications for street lighting, with the goal of improving public safety and boosting energy efficiency throughout the town.

Predictive Maintenance Software Solutions

ABB unveiled its Ability Ellipse software solution, which is designed to help utilities take a more proactive approach to predictive maintenance. The Ability Ellipse software unifies the functionality of ABB’s enterprise asset management, workforce management, and asset performance management packages. The software suite enables customers to better optimize asset utilization, and reduce equipment failures and system outages. Ability Ellipse is the latest offering in the firm’s Ability family, which embeds business processes and leverages real-time equipment data and IoT to connect predictive analytics and asset management systems to mobile workers in the field.

And More

These three examples of the latest solutions are by no means the only ones in the market. Competitors like Itron and Siemens come to mind. Yet these latest moves by the above vendors signify that current tools are inadequate to harness the growing complexity of energy grids. As the digital transformation of energy markets continues, grid managers will need these types of advanced software solutions to seize the opportunities awaiting them as they forge the emerging grid of tomorrow. Without them, the opportunities will be lost, or upstarts will move in with advanced tools and disrupt the incumbents.

 

Hidden Nuggets among the CES Glitz

— January 30, 2018

Sometimes surprises hit you slowly—hidden nuggets overlooked at first glance but demonstrating some hidden or potential value upon further reflection. Such was the case for several companies I met with at the recent CES trade show in Las Vegas. My colleague, Paige Leuschner, covered the major themes at CES in a recent blog: artificial intelligence, home healthcare, and Google everywhere. By contrast, the following firms captured my mind not for hogging the spotlight, but for showing real promise in several technology areas:

iotaBEAM

This startup aims to solve one of the difficult challenges in the Internet of Things (IoT) world—how to secure sensing devices that have limited processing power and run on batteries. Think of a sensor on a remote area of a plant that monitors heat or temperature. Most solutions protect the gateways that gather sensor data, but miss that first hop from the sensor to the gateway. The company’s patent-pending StarDust offering secures that first hop from the sensor with a patented technology that fits into tiny sensors and uses a fraction of battery power. The solution should appeal to many firms deploying IoT technologies, from utilities to manufacturers to healthcare providers.

Kerlink

This French company is no startup. It has been around since 2004, toiling away in the geeky machine to machine space. Lately, however, the company has been riding the strong interest in LoRa technology (also mentioned in a previous blog). Kerlink offers a suite of networking equipment for low power wide area networks (WANs), the type of systems that enable IoT connections at scale. The company announced a nice win during CES, a deal for an additional 800 base stations to be supplied to Proximus, a Belgian telecom company building out its own LoRaWAN IoT network. Kerlink appears poised to take advantage of several IoT use cases, including smart cities, smart buildings, smart health, advanced transportation solutions, and connected agriculture.

Royole

With a larger booth area, Royole was not nearly as subdued at CES compared to the two above. Nonetheless, it could be overlooked among the hundreds of other showy vendors. What caught my eye was Royole’s flexible display and flexible sensor technologies. Royole’s displays are as thin as 0.01 mm, which is about one-fifth the thickness of a human hair; and the company claims its displays are the thinnest in the world. The ultra-slim sensors can be embedded in furniture or the console of a car for controlling a chair or the dashboard electronics. One can imagine other applications for these sensors in an IoT-connected world, such as in clothing, walls, or medical gear. Founded in 2012, the company is poised for growth with the recent completion of its $1.7 billion production facility in Shenzhen, China.

To be sure, these three represent only a handful of the many companies not hogging the spotlight at CES. Competitors could surely surface and outmaneuver them, or the market could simply go sour on their products. The point is that CES is not only a place for the latest gadgets or products from the big brands, but also a place where the wallflowers can take the floor and show off their potential diamonds in the rough.

 

Look to Islands to Teach Us More about IoT

— January 16, 2018

Islands play an important role in the energy sector, and in other sectors. The Hawaiian Islands, for instance, have been a test bed for new technologies at scale, such as rooftop solar and energy storage systems, led by the Hawaiian Electric Company. The concept of islanding, where a distributed energy resource continues to provide power to a location that goes off the grid, has gained stature through the deployment of microgrids. And in the Internet of Things (IoT) realm, both Spain’s Balearic Islands and New Zealand have recently entered the picture as laboratories for IoT technologies.

Case Study: Balearic Islands

Officials in the Balearic Islands are promoting a system involving half a million sensors that will blanket the islands as part of a broad IoT project. The plans call for 50 IoT antennas that can support at least 50,000 sensors. The underlying network infrastructure is based on the emerging LoRa technology, a low power wireless standard for wide area networks that is well-suited for IoT applications.

Several applications for this IoT network are under discussion, from helping tourists identify uncrowded beaches to helping the elderly avoid getting lost. One of the pilot projects uses the network to monitor the availability of some 1,200 parking spaces in a lot at the Balearic Technology Innovation Park.

The Balearic experiment has attracted the attention of Google, which has supplied the local government with its own IoT platform. The online search giant has also brought in its partner Beeva, a Spanish consultancy, to help steer another pilot project that aims to optimize the use of boat moorings in the city of Pollença’s harbor.

Case Study: New Zealand

In New Zealand, similar efforts are underway in that island nation. Telecom carrier Spark is building its own LoRa IoT network, with plans to cover 70% of the population by the middle of 2018. Officials there envision the new network will support connectivity for traffic lights, waterways, and machinery. And they expect to provide such services at lower costs compared to existing infrastructure.

Will these new, island-tested IoT networks prove to be trend-setters? Perhaps. But there are competing IoT network technologies, of course—such as 5G, which has many people in the energy and automotive sectors excited about what it offers (see Navigant Research’s 5G and the Internet of Energy report for some details). No matter how these IoT networks turn out, it pays to keep an eye on the latest advances so one does not get stuck on a technology island.

 

Businesses Say Bring On IoT Regulations

— November 28, 2017

Most businesses do not seek new regulations from governments or regulatory agencies. They already have enough rules to play by. But when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), many take a different tack and are quite open to strong regulations since they are acutely aware of the many reported hacks or known vulnerabilities in things like webcams, baby monitors, and cardiac devices.

A new survey underscores this sentiment. 96% of business respondents saying there should be IoT security regulation, according to the study of 1,050 global IT and business decision makers conducted by Gemalto, a global digital security vendor based in the Netherlands.

Not only do business people see the need for enhanced IoT security, consumers do as well. The same Gemalto survey finds that 90% of consumer respondents (out of 10,500) believe there should be IoT security regulation. 65% of the same consumers are concerned about a hacker controlling their IoT devices.

Challenges Businesses Face

The leading challenge for companies trying to secure IoT products or services is the high cost of implementation (44%), according to the survey. That means companies either bite the bullet and invest in greater security for products or services or cut corners. The latter is obviously not a wise approach. It leaves customers too vulnerable to shoddy security in the IoT products or services they purchase. If spending remains a barrier, it could spell trouble for the emerging IoT market as a whole. With no baseline of security, IoT technology buyers will remain leery and unlikely to make purchases.

Another concern the study revealed is that only 6 out of 10 businesses encrypt all the data they capture or store via IoT devices. That means 4 out of 10 (or 40%) businesses do not, a major red flag. Not all data flowing from IoT devices is that valuable; the number of times someone turns on or off a connected light bulb is minor. But health records or personal financial details is another matter altogether.

Energy Sector Relatively Secure, So Far

So far, the energy sector has a fairly good record of thwarting attacks against devices, with some exceptions. Things like smart meters, substations, and other grid assets have remained safe for the most part. But there are many attempts to penetrate the grid, like earlier this year when nuclear facilities came under attack. Those attempts are likely to increase as more things connect to the grid through distributed energy resources and behind-the-meter devices like smart thermostats or EV chargers. Without stronger rules and incentives, the risks will rise significantly.

One can understand the desire for more stringent regulations for the IoT. The number of things connecting to the grid and other systems is growing exponentially, and so too the number of potential threats. A strong set of standards throughout the IoT value chain is needed to keep data, systems, and people safe. Strong rules will force vendors to devote the needed resources and money to make it happen sooner rather than later.

 

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