Navigant Research Blog

In-Home Energy Displays: Not Dead Yet

— January 3, 2014

The in-home energy display (IHD) market is still relevant, even though many people wrote off this device category a couple of years ago.  Several vendors and utilities report that residential customers are using the devices to help reduce energy consumption and lower bills (for more details on this market, see Navigant Research’s Home Energy Management report published in 4Q 2013). California’s Glendale Water & Power (GWP) provides one example of some traction for IHDs that connect to smart meters.  The utility and its IHD supplier, Ceiva Energy, recently released a new survey showing that customers involved in a pilot who received a Ceiva Homeview frame enhanced their understanding of energy use and did some experimenting:

  • Awareness of hourly electricity costs increased 19 percentage points, from 4% before the device was installed to 23% after
  • Awareness about the time of day they used the most electricity nearly doubled, from 18% to 35%
  • 83% experimented with their consumption, either turning lights on or off, or turning appliances on or off

Since GWP also supplies water to customers, the survey asked about changes in water consumption after the Homeview frame was installed, with 48% of respondents saying they took action, either adjusting their lawn watering schedule or reducing water usage in the home.  Ceiva’s device is also part of another pilot at National Grid in Worcester, Massachusetts, though results of that trial are not yet available.

Right Time & Place

San Diego Gas & Electric, meanwhile, has tested and approved not only Ceiva’s device but also ones from vendors such as Aztech Associates and Rainforest Automation.  Also, northern California utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric has tested IHDs and approved models built by Aztech Associates and Energy Aware.  These IHDs enable homeowners to set up energy-focused home area networks (HANs) and wirelessly connect to smart meters in order to view power consumption in near real-time.  Armed with this data, they can make more informed choices and use energy more efficiently. Outside of the United States, IHDs have also made some inroads.  In Ontario, Canada, a free provincewide program called peaksaver PLUS includes an IHD for customers who enroll; now in its second year, the program provides average savings on bills of about 9%.  One of the key drivers of adoption is the fact that the province is now on time-of-use (TOU) rates, which encourage people to use less energy when electricity rates are high.  So far, some 140,000 homes have displays supplied by Blue Line Innovations, among other providers.   Additionally, Hydro One, a utility serving rural areas of Ontario, has a pilot program to install IHDs from Ambient Devices; results of that trial are still pending.

The Smartphone Factor

In the United Kingdom, millions of IHDs are expected to be installed in the coming years as part of the government’s mandated smart meter deployment.  An IHD is to be made available to every home and small business (some 30 million in all) that receives a new smart electric and gas meter over the next 7 years. As one IHD manufacturer told me recently, IHDs are not dead as a product category, though they have struggled to gain wider attention in a market where app-enabled smartphones and tablets have come to lead.  Therein lies the challenge: despite these concrete examples, overall adoption of IHDs remains low, in the single-digit percentages of utility customers or lower.  Many of these devices work well at communicating consumption, and customers find them useful.  But the trend is toward providing consumption data to the mobile devices that consumers already own and use, which is more convenient for most people.  The BYOD (bring your own device) movement makes it difficult to see a rapidly growing market for IHDs in coming years – outside mandated situations like the United Kingdom or Ontario.

 

New Discoveries Change Notions of Fresh Water

— December 30, 2013

Two new water discoveries have the potential to significantly alter our understanding and future use of this increasingly scarce resource.  One involves semi-fresh water located under the ocean, and the other is a find below the frozen surface of Greenland.

First, scientists have determined that an estimated half million cubic kilometers of low-salinity water (low enough to be turned into potable water) are trapped beneath the seabed on continental shelves around the world, according to a new study published in the international scientific journal Nature.   The amount of potentially useful water is staggering: a hundred times greater than the amount extracted from the earth’s sub-surface since 1900, according to Dr. Vincent Post, the study’s lead author and a professor in the School of the Environment at Flinders University, which oversees Australia’s National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT).

This offshore groundwater has been found off Australia, North America, South Africa, and China.  It could be utilized to supplement existing water sources for coastal cities and surrounding areas, and could potentially sustain some regions for decades. There are two methods of extracting this water, according to Dr. Post:  build an offshore drilling platform and pipe the water to shore, or drill from the mainland or from islands near the aquifers.  Previously, scientists thought this water only existed under rare and special conditions.

Under the Ice

The second discovery was made in Greenland, where researchers drilling through an ice core found something very surprising about 30 feet down: a giant aquifer estimated to be 27,000 square miles, larger than the state of West Virginia.  Details of the discovery were published recently in Nature Geoscience.

The Greenland aquifer is not considered as a water source for human activity; however, the environmental significance of this finding could be very important.  Scientists theorize the aquifer connects to a network of crevasses and streams that flow to ice sheets and helps lubricate the flowing glaciers.  They also suspect that the aquifer acts like a giant storage area, which could burst at some point, sending a large volume of water out of the ice sheet.  It may be a little of both phenomena taking place, according to Richard Forster, a glaciologist at the University of Utah whose students were among those drilling the core.  Forster has applied for more research funding to study the huge aquifer and how it might affect future ocean levels.  Given the amount of water – perhaps more than 100 billion tons – it could be enough to raise global sea levels by 0.4 millimeters, if it all flowed into the sea at once.  The melting of Greenland’s ice sheet adds about 0.7 millimeters of sea-level rise each year, under current conditions, so a 0.4 millimeter increase would be significant.

Uncharted Seas

These revelations come on the heels of the earlier discovery this year of aquifers in Africa, where large underground reservoirs could help ease drought conditions in North Kenya, as noted in a previous blog.

At this point the implications of these two latest discoveries are not fully known, and neither offers a panacea for the many issues surrounding water.  One could be a big boost for coastal areas in need of additional water sources, and the other could help deepen our understanding of fluctuating ocean levels.  Both are worthy of further study to determine what course of action, if any, makes sense.  Clearly, the aquifers under the sea could pay dividends by helping to reduce the effects of drought or water shortages on land.  But it will require careful drilling techniques and, among other things, the application of smart distribution technologies (some of which are described in Navigant Research’s report, Smart Water Networks).  As Dr. Post warns, “These water reserves [under the sea] are non-renewable,” and “we should use them carefully – once gone, they won’t be replenished until the sea level drops again, which is not likely to happen for a very long time.”

 

Driblet Wants to Become the Nest of Water Meters

— December 6, 2013

An early stage startup in Texas wants to change how people monitor their water use – and become the Nest of water meter sensors.  The startup, called Driblet, offers a seemingly simple device, also called Driblet, that attaches to a shower faucet or an outside hose bib and measures consumption.  What makes it unique is its ability to send usage data via Wi-Fi to a cloud service, where the user can monitor water consumption from a computer or Internet-connected mobile device.

The basic concept – to isolate water usage at a faucet level – is not new.  Several vendors (e.g., GPI, DLJ Meter, Hydrologic) offer water flow measuring devices for consumers, but the Driblet’s Internet-connected functionality sets it apart.  The device is the brainchild of Rodolfo Ruiz, an electrical engineer who first created a smart water meter 15 years ago in Monterey, Mexico.  His original device was designed for one of Mexico’s largest water meter distributors, but it never came to market because of federal regulations and a lengthy legal process.

Turn Off the Shower

But Ruiz did not give up.  The father of two children, he noticed his daughter taking long showers that would lead to arguments.  He wanted some way to let her know her water consumption was out of line compared with the rest of the household.  Today, with the help of his improved device, the fights over water use in his home have subsided.  Later, Ruiz entered Driblet in a hackathon event in Mexico and won a prize that got his company off the ground.  Now Driblet is part of Dragon Innovation, a crowd-funding incubator for hardware startups.

The target market is residential homeowners, but Ruiz thinks landlords, non-government organizations working in remote locations, and governments will also be interested.  The device costs $49 for early adopters.  Ruiz says the potential savings on water consumption can be as high as 30%, though the company needs to push Driblet into more homes to obtain a true gauge on how much people can save on average.

There’s no telling if Driblet will make it to widespread production and distribution like the Nest device.  It faces a big marketing challenge, but Ruiz has come up with a solution that others might find worthwhile.  The company is not aiming to displace utility-grade water meters, of course, but this device could provide the water-use granularity that many people would like and could afford.  Stakeholders in the water industry should take note, at least, given that simple ideas sometimes have a way of making an impact.

 

Smart Grid Vendors Embrace Life in the Big City

— December 2, 2013

Smart meter manufacturer Itron and smart grid networking provider Silver Spring Networks (SSN) have both recently embraced new smart city initiatives, becoming the latest vendors to focus attention on a market that is expected to grow to $20.2 billion by 2020, according to Navigant Research’s Smart Cities report.

Itron has joined Microsoft’s CityNext effort, which aims to encourage cities around the world to chart a new future where technology combines with creative ideas to do “new with less.”  The lofty ambitions of CityNext include bringing municipal governments, citizens, and businesses together to build more efficient and sustainable urban areas and do so at lower costs.  Itron’s focus will be on the intersection of energy and water – the nexus, as it’s known – where the company’s technology can be brought to bear to help cities better manage these two vital resources.

City of Light

Silver Spring announced a new network-as-a-service (NaaS) product as part of its smart city solution.  The new service offering aims to help cities avoid upfront capital and deployment costs, and it can become a foundation for adding new smart city applications over time.  The company says its smart city solution helps cities meet some of the key challenges they face in four areas: environmental sustainability, transportation management, health and safety, and economic growth.  The company notes that both Paris, France, and Copenhagen, Denmark, have chosen SSN for projects.  For Paris, the company is providing a new street lighting and traffic control program as the city attempts to cut public lighting consumption by 30% during the next 10 years.  Copenhagen chose the company to deploy a citywide network for connecting 20,000 street lights, which can be leveraged for future smart city services.

Both Itron and SSN join a long list of other smart city technology vendors targeting this market, including Cisco, IBM, Schneider Electric, and Siemens, among others.  (See the Navigant Research Leaderboard Report: Smart City Suppliers for our ranking of this group of companies).

With these initiatives, Itron and SSN are looking to broaden their reach beyond the U.S. market for smart metering and networking, which has peaked for now with the winding down of federal stimulus money.  Different opportunities lie elsewhere, and often the need is for solutions that solve urban problems not often found in the United States.  For instance, Itron is supplying new advanced water meters to areas of New Delhi, India,  in a project aimed at providing a continuous water supply where, before, water was only available for several hours each day.  In China, Itron has supplied smart water, heat, and gas meters, along with networking gear, for the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City – a city built with efficiency and sustainability squarely in mind.  We can expect to see more of these types of city-centric and integrated solutions in coming years.

 

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