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.

 

Even My Grandma Has a Smart Home!

— January 25, 2018

There are all kinds of barriers to smart home adoption. People ask me all the time, “what do you use your Alexa for?” Unconvinced by existing value propositions, many consumers figure they need not bother with smart technology.

Smart Home Imperfections

Admittedly, for all the promise about how smart these products are and how they will change our lives, often they are not that smart and they fail to meet expectations. The countless times I have asked my Echo device a simple question, only to have Alexa respond with “Sorry, I don’t know that,” drives even the earliest of adopters to the brink. And that’s not even going into the issues surrounding installation, troubleshooting, interoperability, and cost. It makes many wonder, why all the fuss?

Smart Features Offer Ease

Despite all the reasons people find not to adopt smart home products, I have found a convincing case for even the biggest skeptic. I recently discovered my grandma has a smart home.

My grandma is no early tech adopter—she is 80 and her favorite hobby is quilting—and yet, she has a Google Home, a Nest Cam, three Philips Hue light bulbs, several ConnectSense smart outlets, and an iPad or iPhone to control them all, which is a more robust smart home ecosystem compared to what most people have—including me. Every evening when it starts to get dark, she uses her smartphone to turn on lamps, instead of having to bend over and switch them on. When she retires for the evening, she asks Google Assistant to turn her Hue bulbs on, instead of having to fumble around in the dark for a light switch. She doesn’t even notice the Nest Cam perched on her mantel, but it gives my family members piece of mind as they can check on her using their smartphones from wherever they are.

Gifting Smart Tech

There are, of course, a few caveats. My grandma hasn’t purchased any of these products herself. They have all been gifts from family members, which is important for vendors to keep in mind when targeting consumers. When a device malfunctions, she calls upon her children and grandchildren for troubleshooting, which usually involves walking her through an app over the phone or simply restarting a device. Though this works most of the time, smart home tech vendors need to provide maintenance and support to consumers.

My grandma also hasn’t installed any of these devices herself, though they have been plug-and-play enough for younger generations in the family, and many companies are increasingly offering installation services. To top it off, her smart plugs are integrated with Apple HomeKit, but they aren’t integrated with Google Assistant, meaning she can’t control them through voice activation—which highlights a common interoperability problem for most consumers.

If Grandma Can Do It, Anybody Can

While the smart home market has its challenges, there are emerging use cases that are convincing more consumers to embrace the technology. Smart home tech should not be used only by early adopters and younger generations, it should be used by everyone. If my grandma can use smart home products and services, then anyone can, and there is hope for the smart home market yet.

 

Cybersecurity Threats Mount, but Overall Picture Not So Bleak

— November 16, 2017

Cybersecurity threats keep mounting against the grid, corporations, and individuals. The known attacks and security holes revealed in the past year are real and cause for serious concern. The whole picture, however, might not be as bleak as it first appears if utilities focus on getting ahead of cybersecurity threats. The good guys are in this fight and they have solid tools to keep us safe. Among grid-related threats, at least three incidents stand out as examples of how grim the situation could become if utilities do not proactively address cyber attacks.

It was revealed in August that a foreign power had compromised the state-owned Irish power grid company EirGrid, according to a report by Ireland’s Independent newspaper. When the hack was first discovered, experts said the breach occurred more than 2 months beforehand. At the time, the newspaper’s sources said it was still unknown if any malicious software had made its way into EirGrid’s control systems. Though it is unclear which foreign power was involved, the hackers used Internet Protocol (IP) addresses sourced from Ghana and Bulgaria.

In July, US officials revealed that hackers had penetrated computer networks of companies operating nuclear power stations, other energy facilities, and manufacturing plants. Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp.’s power plant near Burlington, Kansas is one of the nuclear facilities specifically named. The nefarious activity caused the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to issue an amber warning, which is the second-highest rating level. It turns out the hackers were unable to hop from victims’ computers into control systems, and officials said there was no sign of a threat to public safety.

In mid-October, millions of people found out that nearly all Wi-Fi devices were at risk of hijack and eavesdropping because of a bug known as KRACK that exposes a flaw in the common security protocol WPA2. If exploited, a hacker could use a skeleton key to access any WPA2 network without a password. Patches for thwarting the threat have been made available from some vendors, while others are still pending.

Grid Cybersecurity

So, how high are the overall risks? Potentially rather high, but perhaps not as high as one might think for the grid in particular. According to Philip Propes, chief security information officer for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the situation is not doom and gloom in the electric utility sector. During a recent webinar, he said officials in the utility industry are well aware of cybersecurity issues and many have taken appropriate steps. In TVA’s own case, he says his team is moving from a reactive approach to a proactive approach around security and getting ahead of attacks before an event occurs.

Furthermore, private experts and researchers at the US Department of Energy’s national labs are working on new methods to reduce the threat from cyber attacks. One project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory would set up a private communications and control system for the grid, called darknet, that would operate separately from the public internet. Also, the use of quantum encryption capabilities could add enhanced security for the grid.

Cybersecurity risks should not be taken lightly, but there is no reason to panic. There is a growing sense of urgency among experts and officials to collaborate on robust solutions and progress is being made quietly, despite the mounting threats. For a more in-depth look at how utilities are responding to these threats, check out Navigant Research’s Cybersecurity for the Digital Utility report, written by my colleague Michael Kelly.

 

What Is a Smart Home and How Will It Play a Role in the Energy Cloud?

— November 3, 2017

The concept of a smart home has the potential to revolutionize the way people interact with their homes. Homes that act intuitively and intelligently through smart home systems can enrich consumers’ lives by fostering increased comfort, awareness, convenience, and cost and energy savings. This concept also extends to the role that the home can play in transitioning the grid from traditional centralized generation to the Energy Cloud.

How Do We Define a Smart Home?

However, there is no set definition of a smart home. The industry often uses the terms smart, connected, and automated interchangeably when referring to the Internet of Things (IoT) in the home, though these terms refer to different (albeit related) ideas. Navigant Research believes the concept of a smart home goes beyond the individual devices of a connected home and involves integrated platforms where an ecosystem of interoperable devices is supported by software and services. A truly smart home should be able to act intuitively and automatically, anticipating and responding to the needs of consumers based on learned lifestyle patterns and real-time interaction.

Navigant Research’s View

Navigant Research believes the comprehensiveness and integration of such solutions are the keys to the success of the smart home, as homes that are embedded with smart technologies at their core are more suitable for playing a role in the Energy Cloud. Homes are expected to transform into dynamic assets that balance home energy production and consumption with distributed energy resources, shed load demand through the optimization of more energy efficient products, respond to signals that shift demand to times when the grid is less strained, and generally support a more reliable grid infrastructure.

Market Focus

Currently, the market is focused on the proliferation of connected devices, which are supporting more digitally enabled, connected homes. Consumers are increasingly aware of smart home technologies, with platforms like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomeKit spurring excitement about controlling devices in the home through voice activation and slowly but surely turning the smart home into a reality. These devices are demonstrating value, whether it be for entertainment, health, convenience, security, or energy. The figure below demonstrates the connected hardware in the home that establishes the backbone for comprehensive integrated platforms that support the development of smarter homes.

Connected Hardware in the Home

(Source: Navigant Research)

A Promising Future

There are many obstacles for the smart home market to overcome, such as interoperability, data privacy and security, a lack of embedded technologies in the home, advanced functionality, and connection between smart technologies and the grid. Yet, this market is gaining traction, and smart home solutions are becoming the future of the home and its role in the digital grid. To learn more about the smart home market, check out the recent Navigant Research report, The Smart Home.

 

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