Navigant Research Blog

First (Nearly) Nationwide LPWA Network Now Available for Utility Applications

— April 4, 2017

On March 31, Verizon launched the first commercial LTE-Cat-M1 network across 2.4 million square miles in the United States. LTE-Cat-M1 is a cellular-based, low power wide area (LPWA) network designed to support the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) industry. Other LPWA solutions include ultra-narrowband systems such as SIGFOX, RPMA technology from Ingenu/Trilliant, the LoRA standard, and others.

Verizon said that the service will run at $2 per month per device (or less for large-scale deployments)—less than existing 2G or 3G cellular services that may be in use today by electric utilities. Chipsets and modules are available from Sequans, Telit, Qualcomm Technologies, Encore Networks, Link Labs, and NimbeLink. Modules from Qualcomm are also available with Verizon’s ThingSpace IoT cloud platform integrated.

In addition to low cost, LPWA solutions such as LTE-Cat-M1 are also known for very long battery life (10-20 years), as well as improved in-building/underground penetration. Click here to see an infographic highlighting the features of Verizon’s LTE-Cat-M1 offering. Rival AT&T has been trialing LTE-Cat-M1 in San Francisco since last fall and said in January that it would deploy to “most” of its network by mid-year and nationwide by year-end.

The LTE-Cat-M1 standard, along with the yet to be launched narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and the GSM-based Extended Coverage-GSM-IoT (EC-GSM-IoT) standards, will be deployed via a software upgrade to existing LTE or GSM cellular networks. LTE-Cat-M1 is expected to be popular across North America, while many European cellular operators are more focused on the NB-IoT standard, which is expected to launch in 2018 along with EC-GSM-IoT.

IoT Comes of Age – for Utilities Too?

For power utilities, LPWA technologies promise to make widespread sensor networks an economic reality throughout the distribution grid. With costs as low as a dollar or two per year for some standards (SIGFOX and LoRA), depending upon data volume, utilities may finally be able to make a sound ROI argument for ubiquitous sensors.

As described in Navigant Research’s report, Low Power Wide Area Networks for Power Utility Applications, the LTE-Cat-M1 service may be appropriate for utility applications such as smart metering, distribution line monitoring and control, fault location, isolation, and restoration (FLISR), Volt/VAR optimization, smart solar inverter connectivity, and wide-scale asset management and monitoring functions.

Navigant Research expects the market for LPWA services and equipment among power utilities to grow by more than an order of magnitude over the next decade, from $23.4 million this year to nearly $280 million in 2026. The market is projected to be valued at more than $1.5 billion over this timeframe.

Total Utility LPWA Revenue by Region, World Markets: 2017-2026

(Source: Navigant Research)

 

Builders Use Energy Efficient Technologies to Construct Better Homes

— March 31, 2017

Home builders today have many options for creating more efficient and smarter homes, and a survey says builders are actually using these products. According to a recent National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey, single-family builders in the United States are using an average of 10.2 different green products or practices, and 22% always or almost always have their home certified to a green standard. Energy efficient windows ranked at the top of the list, commonly used by 95% of builders, followed by high efficiency HVAC systems at 92%, programmable thermostats at 88%, and ENERGY STAR-rated appliances at 80%.

(Source: National Association of Home Builders)

At the bottom of the list are smart appliances at 16%, energy management systems at 11%, and passive solar design at 8%, among others. While these concepts are certainly growing in popularity, this survey is a reminder that in reality, energy efficiency in new construction still largely relies on more traditional energy efficient products. These more traditional products are not only tried, tested, and trusted by builders, but can also offer a clearer prospect for energy savings potential, as can be seen in the ENERGY STAR window savings estimates figure below.

(Source: ENERGY STAR)

A Step in the Right Direction?

The industry still has a way to go before smart home and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies become more viable options for home builders. Yet, the fact that energy efficiency products are being more commonly accepted and used among builders is a step in the right direction toward advancing the efficiency of newly constructed homes.

On the other hand, other builders are using much less practical methods for constructing more efficient homes. Apis Cor, based in Irkutsk, Russia, has developed a mobile 3D printer, which it used to print a 400-square-foot single-family home within 24 hours. The company argues that its printer not only produces more affordable homes, but is also more resource efficient. It uses geopolymer, which consists predominately of byproducts from other industries, and avoids the use of traditional materials like wood, which has led to extensive deforestation and environmental erosion. While this company’s methods are much less practical than utilizing energy efficient products in more traditional construction, it shows that the new home construction industry is moving forward in implementing more advanced technologies for building better, more efficient homes.

 

European Utilities Are Moving toward New Energy Platforms at Different Paces: Part 3

— March 29, 2017

The energy industry is experiencing a profound transformation as the sector moves toward more intelligent, more distributed, and cleaner use of energy. Utilities’ traditional business models are being challenged by disruptive firms offering new services that leverage more advanced technology, as described in Navigant’s Energy Cloud analysis in its Navigating the Energy Transformation white paper. In the first post of this blog series, I described six new energy platforms underpinning the energy transformation. In the second post, I showed that some European utilities have been more active than others in partnering with, and investing in, companies offering new energy platforms. In this post, I focus on the geographical distribution of activity to show that the majority of partnerships are with companies located in Europe, while most of the investments are made in organizations based in North America. In the next and final post, I will argue that in order to be successful in the transition toward a smarter, more digital energy future, utilities will need to strategically adopt the most relevant new energy platforms.

(Source: Navigant Consulting)

In terms of geographical distribution, while the majority of partnerships are with companies located in Europe, it is worth noting that most of the investments that eight major European utilities have made over the last 2 years are concentrated in North America—and California more particularly (see above figure). This is not surprising, when one considers that most startups offering services in Distributed Energy Resources (DER) Integration were created in California. These include AutoGrid (which raised funds from both E.ON and Total), Stem (in which RWE and Total invested), and Green Charge Networks (acquired by ENGIE). French utilities ENGIE and Total and German utilities E.ON and RWE have been the most active investors in California-based companies. While both French utilities have been focusing on companies offering DER Integration services, the German utilities’ activities have been more diversified across multiple platforms, such as Internet of Things (IoT), Electric Mobility, and DER Integration.

The majority of partnerships have been signed with companies located in Europe. An obvious reason is the ease of having operational teams able to work closely together across European countries and time zones—rather than across continents. In the Electric Mobility sphere, Enel has been partnering with automaker Nissan to offer a bundled product consisting of Nissan’s EV and Enel’s home charging point and smartphone app locating charging points across Italy. In the DER Integration field, E.ON and solar PV system provider SOLARWATT have signed an agreement to jointly offer a solar PV and battery storage system, an energy monitoring app, and a green electricity tariff to their German customers.

Lastly, utilities that are competitors in their home European markets sometimes invest in the same startup, while other times betting on competitor companies. Both E.ON and RWE have invested in Bidgely, which provides real-time appliance-level energy consumption applications for residential customers. The California-based startup will use both German utilities’ funding and customer bases to expand from North America to Europe. On the other hand, ENGIE acquired battery storage system and platform provider Green Charge Networks, which is a direct competitor of Demand Energy—the company acquired by Enel in early 2017.

In the next and final post of this blog series, I will argue that in order to be successful in the transition toward a smarter, more digital energy future, utilities will need to strategically adopt the most relevant new energy platforms.

 

Lighting Solutions Leave Something to Be Desired, but Hope Is on the Horizon

— March 29, 2017

The residential connected lighting market is becoming increasingly popular as consumers adopt more voice-activated smart home devices, such as the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomeKit, that enable them to interact with their lighting in a whole new way. Connected lighting shows significant potential as new use cases emerge for assisted living and elderly care, security, notifications, and health and wellness, to name a few. However, the industry has a long way to go before connected lighting is adopted by a greater number of mainstream consumers.

Something to Be Desired

Research for Navigant Research’s Residential Connected Lighting report revealed that there is no single complete, comprehensive lighting solution available on the market. It seems as though every product leaves something to be desired.

Many of the connected bulbs available are either connected and color-changing but do not have very intelligent features; are fairly intelligent but overwhelmingly expensive; do not require a hub but cannot be controlled outside of the home; can be controlled outside of the home but also require a hub; or are so new that it could be a risky purchase relative to more mature products (meaning the company or product itself may not be around in coming years).

And many of the connected bulbs available have tradeoffs when it comes to function and marketability:

  • Connected and color-changing but without very intelligent features
  • Fairly intelligent but overwhelmingly expensive
  • Do not require a hub but cannot be controlled outside the home
  • Can be controlled outside the home but require a hub
  • So new as to be a risky purchase relative to more mature products

Connected luminaires or fixtures such as table lamps are few and far between, and those available on the market tend to take on a more futuristic style than what average consumers might be used to and interested in having in their homes.

Most control products are offering connectivity through protocols like ZigBee and Wi-Fi, and capabilities range from dimming to occupancy sensing. However, many are simply not as smart or automated as consumers are led to believe. Compared to other types of lighting solutions, switches can be an affordable alternative to retrofitting an entire home with connected bulbs, though they require an electrician or experienced do-it-yourselfer to install.

Positive Progress

However, because the residential connected market is still emerging, there are many players entering the market with innovative solutions for solving these issues. For instance, companies such as Nuro Technologies, which will be offering a Wi-Fi-enabled light switch, are arguably positioned to offer the smartest lighting controls products. (In Nuro’s case, though, these switches are not yet available.) Qube Smart Lighting is offering an affordable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled bulb with smart capabilities like machine learning. Companies like these are expected to push incumbents and other players to continue innovating and developing their products, which will make for positive progress in the connected lighting market.

To learn more about residential connected lighting, look for Navigant Research’s Residential Connected Lighting Market Overview and Leaderboard reports.

 

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