Navigant Research Blog

Preludes to Premium Mobility Services

— May 22, 2017

Moving toward a world where individual vehicle ownership gives way to automated mobility services, automakers and service providers run the risk that their differentiated products will become commodities. In an industry that already runs relatively thin margins on top of high capital costs, the thought of becoming a commodity is a nightmare scenario. That is why companies like Ford and General Motors (GM) are experimenting with models that could feature different price points and margins.

Differentiation Necessary

If you use one of today’s basic ride-hailing services, it doesn’t matter if you use Lyft, Uber, Gett, or one of the numerous small services that operate regionally. Using luxury tiers like Uber Black gets users a premium vehicle, but otherwise the service is essentially the same and the prices are usually close. In order to charge a premium price that can generate the profits needed to sustain a business, companies will have to find ways to differentiate.

In a world where the car you ride in becomes random, the overall customer experience of the service will become crucial. That may include being able to specify what type of vehicle you want, guaranteed shorter wait times, access to added services like picking up the dry cleaning or groceries, and more.

In January 2017, GM’s Cadillac division launched Book, a service that enables customers to pay a flat monthly fee and get access to any of the vehicles in the brand’s model lineup. A subscriber may opt to spend the week commuting in an XT5 crossover, switch to an ATS-V performance coupe for a weekend jaunt in the country, or get an Escalade for a family road trip. Cadillac takes care of insurance, detailing, and maintenance.

At the New York Auto Show in April 2017, Lincoln announced its Chauffeur service. As the name implies, Lincoln provides its customers with access to a professional driver when owners cannot or don’t want to drive—such as on a special date night or to pick up the kids from an event. Lincoln screens the drivers and they arrive at the customer’s location on request to drive the customer’s car. Lincoln Chauffeur debuted in Miami and is now expanding to San Diego.

An Automated Future

Hypothetically, 5 to 10 years from now when both of these brands (and others) are offering a range of automated vehicles, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where services evolve to take advantage of that automation. The Cadillac of your choice appears at your doorstep on demand; for certain models like the high performance V series, GM can offer the option for the customer to drive if they choose while others may be automated only. Similarly, Lincoln Chauffeur could be utilized with automation for vehicles that customers buy, lease, or subscribe to on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also articulated a vision where his customers could make their vehicles available for short-term rentals when not being used.

These and other varieties of services will mean dramatic changes for the automotive retail business, as well the automakers and customers. The choice of whether to lease or buy gets expanded into additional types of payment plans, including by the mile, hour, month, and more. The possibilities will be limitless for affluent customers. For example, a customer may not need to decide what color car they want in their garage; they can order one coordinated to their outfit for the evening. No doubt there will be many more experiments from automakers over the next several years as they seek to navigate their way through a changing transportation landscape.

 

Natural Gas Flaring: Time to Turn a $30 Billion Waste Stream into Profit, Part 2

— May 22, 2017

Part 1 of this blog series covered the state of natural gas flaring; this post examines specific developments allowing stakeholders to put the gas to use.

Flaring, the intentional burning of excess natural gas, contributes a great to deal to climate change. Therefore, this practice is regulated across the globe in the hopes of meeting climate goals. But is regulation necessary? Ideally, this wasted gas would be put to profitable, efficient use, limiting the need for specific flare gas regulations. In fact, several developments are pointing toward the profitable use of associated gas, including improved gas-to-liquids (GTL) technologies, improved onsite combustion technologies, and access to electricity offtakers through microgrids. Consider the following:

  • GTL technologies are improving rapidly. Notably, small-scale GTL players like Velocys, CompactGTL, and many others have commercially available products that convert natural gas into a variety of liquid products, including diesel and methanol, among others. These products have generally higher local value than natural gas and can be transported easily. This points to more opportunities in the developing world—much of which relies on liquid fuels, but has limited access to pipelines. GTL technologies have been held back by low oil prices, but become quite economical in many cases when oil costs over $50 per barrel—a scenario playing out with more regularity.
  • Improved combustion technologies, including natural gas reciprocating engines and microturbines, are opening new opportunities. Manufacturers like Caterpillar and Cummins offer dual fuel generator sets (gensets) that can mix natural gas into oilfield diesel generators. Meanwhile, microturbine vendors like Capstone Turbine offer units as small as 30 kW that can run on a wide range of fuels. GE’s Jenbacher gensets, well suited to handle the variable composition and impurities in associated gas, account for more than 450 MW of installed associated gas generation worldwide.
  • Access to new electricity offtakers through microgrids has the potential to put flare gas to use. Improvements in solar, storage, and microgrid controls technologies make microgrids a popular phenomenon—though such microgrids often call for a consistent baseload fossil fuel source to optimize generation. This is a good match for wellhead gas, which is produced with a relatively consistent output. Various companies are developing microgrids tied to oil & gas production, from Horizon Power in Australia to Mesa Natural Gas Solutions in the United States.

Global Opportunities

As a measure of global opportunities, consider developments in two key markets: Nigeria and Indonesia. Both major oil-producing nations, these countries rank No. 7 and No. 12, respectively, on The World Bank’s flare gas ranking list, accounting for a collective $2 billion in wasted gas (based on the $5.61 per million Btu measure previously outlined).

Nigeria has an aggressive strategy of 75% electrification by 2020 and recently released minigrid regulations that encourage decentralized generation. This, combined with continued oil & gas growth, points to opportunities for the $1.5 billion of wasted flare gas.

Indonesia, meanwhile, recently released new rules that incentivize wellhead power developments—provided that they are close to gas fields and to existing transmission lines and consumers. With more than $500 million in gas flared there, this regulation will open opportunities for microgrid developers, generator vendors, and other stakeholders in distributed power. With billions of dollars of gas going up in smoke and technologies and regulations pushing for efficient generation, opportunity looms large in flare gas alternatives.

 

Cities Using Smart Street Lighting as a Platform for Smart City Applications

— May 22, 2017

Smart street lighting is increasingly being recognized by city leaders as the first step toward the development of a smart city. Connected lighting systems enable immediate and significant energy savings through LEDs and controls while also providing a potential backbone network for cities to deploy additional smart city applications and services in a wide range of sectors. Growing numbers of pilot and large-scale projects are demonstrating the value of using a smart street lighting network as a broader platform for innovation.

From Networked Controls to a Smart City Platform

Sensors and other technologies can be added to a smart street lighting network to create a multitude of new city services, including gunshot detection, air quality monitoring, traffic management, and smart parking, among others. The types of smart city applications being used by cities on the smart street lighting platform vary tremendously by project. Security and public safety are some of the key applications currently being implemented in North America. As an example, Chattanooga, Tennessee is using smart LED street lights that can be remotely flashed to break up gang activity. And two other cities, Fresno, California and Peoria, Illinois, are using gunshot detection technology on their smart street lights to enable law enforcement to respond more quickly to shooting events. In Europe, several key projects are using lighting networks to improve pedestrian, bicyclist, and traffic management. Meanwhile, Asia Pacific is developing numerous projects using environmental sensors for air quality monitoring to address the heavy pollution levels in many of the congested cities in the region.

Boundless Opportunity

These extended capabilities provided by a smart street lighting platform enable cities to make further cost savings and add new and valuable city services. They also offer the potential for added revenue streams related to the lampposts. For example, in Los Angeles, smart poles are being installed with 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology to improve mobile phone coverage. The city is generating revenue by renting the poles to cell carriers.

The practice of utilizing smart street lighting networks as a platform for other smart city applications is still in its early stages. However, with several large deployments (e.g., in San Diego and Copenhagen) and an array of pilot projects currently underway, an increasing number of cities are beginning to understand the nearly unlimited potential that information and communication technology (ICT) can offer in improving city service delivery and management. For more information and analysis on this topic, keep an eye out for Navigant Research’s forthcoming report, Smart Street Lighting for Smart Cities.

 

Wärtsilä Acquires Greensmith: Genset Manufacturers Expand Their Role in the Energy Cloud

— May 19, 2017

This week, Wärtsilä announced its acquisition of Greensmith, highlighting a significant trend: generator set (genset) manufacturers are acquiring systems integration and controls capabilities. As this trend continues, the companies are embedding themselves ever deeper into the distributed energy paradigm outlined in Navigant’s Energy Cloud.

Hybrid/Storage Plays

Wärtsilä of Finland is a major global producer of larger reciprocating engines for power generation and marine uses. Yet, genset manufacturers in a variety of segments have been building relationships with storage and controls companies. This strategy can be considered both defensive and offensive in the fast changing genset industry, as explained below. Some specific moves since 2015 are shown in the following figure.

Generator Manufacturers with Publicly Announced Hybrid/Storage Plays

(Sources: Navigant Research, Company Press Releases)

In addition to Cummins, Caterpillar, Wärtsilä, and Doosan, other generator manufacturers, including General Electric (GE) and Aggreko, have announced storage offerings developed either internally or by undisclosed vendors. Most of the above companies also offer solar PV solutions in conjunction with their installations, whether through partners, through distributors, or directly.

There is clear appeal in genset/storage/PV hybrid systems. PV provides clean daytime power at cheapening costs, while gensets provide flexible baseload on demand for nighttime hours and fluctuations in demand. Solar production forecasting, as in the cloud monitoring systems developed by CSIRO, can adjust the operation of gensets to improve integration and save fuel costs (often a significant few percentage points). Storage then provides multiple benefits: in addition to smoothing out PV production, batteries can optimize genset operation, allowing for fuel savings, smoother operation, and sometimes even elimination of redundant gensets.

Defense and Offense

With the latter fact in mind, this acquisition/partnering strategy can be thought of as playing defense—acquiring a backfill revenue source for what may be a declining need for number of systems on any given project. Consider the example presented by Wärtsilä here. Of the six gensets in the “spinning reserve by engine vs storage comparison,” two have become redundant with the addition of battery storage, since the storage provides the spinning reserve formerly afforded by the gensets. If vendors see lower genset sales in cases like these, they may jump at the chance to backfill with sales of controls, storage, or PV.

Apart from its defensive aspects, this strategy also has significant offensive upside. As power production becomes ever more decentralized, genset manufacturers with solid distributed energy resources (DER) strategies will be well positioned to capture market share. There exist major opportunities in microgrids and virtual power plants—indeed, all across the Energy Cloud. As the core technology providers of thousands of legacy microgrids, genset vendors are both driven and well suited to serve a major role in the future of electricity.

 

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