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Southeast Asia: Laggard or Promising Challenger in the Smart Grid World?

— June 9, 2012

Recently, I returned to Bangkok so I could participate in one of the largest regional conferences, Metering, Billing / CRM ASIA 2012.  The conference was designed to provide industry and market insights for metering stakeholders in Asia.  Participants examined the status of regional metering, reviewed metering strategies and plans, and looked at case studies of successful industry projects from various angles.  Most participants represented either Asian or international utilities and included key solution providers involved in metering, billing, and IT and data management for power utilities.

If I had to choose one phrase to illustrate my impression of the conference, I would say that it was “up-to-date”; it covered the key parts of smart metering in Southeast Asia (SEA), offering many opportunities for sharing knowledge.  Participants in the event could find realistic approaches for tackling the challenging issues facing smart meter deployments and get ideas for overcoming barriers.  Those are probably the common goals of industry leaders in the region.  Presentations and discussions covered crucial and key issues such as ”what is important to keep in mind when deploying meters?”  The exhibitors and market stakeholders at the event were passionate in their discussion of these issues.

At the conference, I presented Pike Research’s view on smart grid and meters, in a presentation entitled Southeast Asia Smart Meter Market Overview, including market forecasts for smart meter penetration rates.  I also moderated a roundtable session for smart grid leaders that included seven panelists from SEA utilities, who discussed their current status regarding smart meter uptakes and market challenges.  Key points from that roundtable discussion follow.

Conventional wisdom suggests that smart grids and smart meters are a viable option for the developing world.  That is partly true, at least at present and over the next couple of years.  Through my participation at the conference and talking with many participants, I had an opportunity to expand my perception of the market as well as my views.  SEA countries aspire with similar urgency to smart grids and AMI in their aging grids because they are driven by common social and economic purposes.

In recent years, SEA has continually demonstrated economic growth and urbanization.  Given its huge potential and its continuing growth, a large part of SEA’s growing electricity demand mirrors the region’s urbanization and increased industrialization.  Those factors have a direct impact on SEA’s growing need for electric power.

Yet, nations in the region face the dual challenges of underdeveloped electric infrastructure and power grids, as well as a lack of capital and technologies to make advances in power grid services.  As of now, SEA governments and industries find themselves struggling to keep pace with the new trends in global clean energy development while they actively address the need for sufficient electricity.  Their intentions to upgrade their power grids are surely sincere.  Not surprisingly, some emerging countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines have recently been driving concrete national roadmaps that embrace smart grids.  Their intention to adopt these roadmaps is primarily based on managing power more efficiently and effectively.  With the advent of a robust grid communications infrastructure, additional intelligence can be deployed throughout the grid, for example, with AMI, whereby customers make decisions about energy consumption.

Yet, challenges still exist.  Most of the region’s developing nations face a lack of electric power sources and aging and inefficient grid infrastructures.  Rural electrification has been an important factor in the policies of these nations as they attempt to improve living conditions for people in remote areas by increasing food production, developing agro-industry (and other types of industry), providing lighting to rural residents, and generally stimulating productive activities.  Multiple sources of capital and technology assets are necessary for upgrading and meeting demands – and those are the factors most lacking for these nations.

Also at the roundtable, I learned about some of the driving forces behind Southeast Asia’s smart grid appetite.  Utilities in the region are pursuing fragmented and different goals depending on how far along their national grids are in pursing smart grids or smart meters, or both.  Overall, utilities and market stakeholders in the region are pursuing one (or both) of the following:

  1. Energy efficiency focus (such as load balancing and efficient grid management)
  2. Revenue protection focus (such as theft prevention and reduced billing errors with smarter metering solutions) in their frameworks, in association with conceptual and functional models in smart grids.

Pike Research will soon publish a new report on “Smart Grid in Southeast Asia” in which I scrutinize market and business issues, barriers and challenges, technology issues, and detailed country status and smart grid/meter deployment plans, including market forecasts from 2011 to 2020.

Southeast Asia is no longer a benchwarmer and will make its best effort to drive a “smarter” grid infrastructure.

 

Landis+Gyr Adds MDM With Ecologic Analytics Buy

— January 12, 2012

Landis+Gyrannounced this week that it has acquired the remaining stake of meter data management (MDM) vendor Ecologic Analytics, with whom it already has a close working relationship.  Ecologic’s MDMS is already tightly integrated with L+G’s Gridstream advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) solution as the default MDM.  However, both vendors support other products as well – Gridstream has ready-built interfaces with most popular MDM solutions while Ecologic MDMS has ready-built interfaces with most popular AMI solutions.  Landis+Gyr is itself 100% owned by Toshiba.

Pike Research has verified that both L+G and Ecologic intend to continue with a focus on interoperability and partnering – in other words, they’ll still see other people.  Both companies have in the past stated their belief that utilities will continue to require integration with and support for different software systems and solutions.  I believe that such flexibility maximizes the options to be involved in new AMI and MDM ventures.  In such competitive markets, the last thing any vendor wants to write in an RFP response is, “Sorry, we don’t work with those people.”

In our 2011 report, Pike Pulse:  Meter Data Management, we rated Ecologic Analytics as a Contender, just short of the Leaders category.  The report characterized Ecologic as “…a well-run company that addresses all aspects of its business.  The company has also done a good job of phrasing its marketing messages in terms of utilities’ business problems.”  I continue to hold that view of Ecologic as a unit of L+G.

That report also explained that to move into the Leaders category, “Ecologic could expand its business with other AMI vendors, especially those that do not already have their own MDM.  There is also quite a bit of room for the company to improve its geographic reach, which may be accomplished via L+G’s 11 offices in China.”  Ecologic addressed that first point soon after our report was published, by announcing a partnership with IBM to integrate its MDM technology with IBM solutions.  At roughly the same time Ecologic also announced a development deal with L+G to support the SAP MDUS specification and therefore make Ecologics’ technology available to SAP for Utilities customers.   Competitors such as eMeter, Itron, and OSIsoft had already completed MDUS integrations.

Our second recommendation for Ecologic Analytics – wider geographic reach for Ecologic’s products – is furthered with this acquisition.  I continue to be skeptical that China will be an addressable market for external MDM vendors unless some special relationship exists.  L+G’s existing business in China, plus Toshiba’s ownership, could become highly valuable in helping Ecologic penetrate that market.  Still, trying to predict any technology market in China is fraught with assumptions, so I’ll simply state that this transaction should give Ecologic a stronger presence in China.

 

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