Navigant Research Blog

Utilities Need an Innovation Reset

— November 28, 2016

SmartCityUtilities should take a cue from customers: Go ahead and innovate. That is the clear conclusion from a recent study that says consumers want their utilities to be more innovative and expand offerings into the home.

The study, a SmartEnergy IP survey of 1,500 US customers, finds 32% of respondents expect their utilities to adopt technologies that automate energy savings and 20% expect their utilities to build smarter communities. There is a downside in the data, however; nearly 40% of respondents do not view their utilities as innovative, meaning there is room for improvement.

Not all utilities lack for innovation. At Navigant Research, we have chronicled the efforts of utilities willing to pioneer new technologies for customers. For example, Green Mountain Power in Vermont has led the charge with its eHome program, a holistic approach to home energy management that leverages technologies such as heat pumps, solar PV, storage, and EV charging, as noted in our IoT Enabled Managed Services report. Other utilities like Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, and Kansas City Power & Light are promoting the adoption of smart thermostats as a way of helping customers reduce their bills and promote overall grid efficiency.

Among utilities innovating within their communities, San Diego Gas & Electric stands out for its efforts to create smarter cities from an energy perspective. The Southern California utility, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, has been collaborating with local city governments on projects that leverage smart meters, demand management, and energy efficiency to lessen the impact of changing load patterns. By working together, the utility and local cities have forged an integrated approach for smarter energy use. Similarly, Duke Energy and ComEd are two other broad-thinking utilities that are leveraging ties with the cities of Charlotte, North Carolina and Chicago, Illinois to foster the same type of smarter community.

While these examples are encouraging, the SmartEnergy IP survey indicates customers in many locations have not seen much innovation from their utilities. Nearly a third are saying that it’s okay to step beyond the normal bounds and offer new products and services that help customers save money and use energy more wisely. There is a message here for regulators as well: customers are ready for innovation, and new rules that enable utilities to expand their product and service offerings would be welcome. It’s time for an innovation reset for utilities.

 

Safer, Stronger, and Brighter Streets through Lighting Controls

— October 6, 2016

SmartCityWhat impact do street lights have on a city’s populace? According to Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, street lights make the city’s streets “safer, stronger, and brighter.” This is the justification being used for the launch of a new service that allows residents of the district to report street light outages via text message. The challenge with city street lights is that they have a greater impact on how citizens feel than on more quantifiable measures.

The conventional wisdom says that brightly lit streets reduce crime and traffic collisions. Yet, a 2015 study published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found little evidence of harmful effects of reduced levels of street lighting on road collisions or crime in England and Wales. Researchers analyzed 14 years of data from 62 local authorities that implemented strategies such as switching lights off permanently, reducing the number of hours that lamps are switched on at night, dimming lights, and replacing traditional orange lamps with energy efficient white light LED lamps. Empirically, permanently switching off lights did not lead to an increase in crime or car crashes.

But it is too simplistic to conclude that better street lighting has no impact on a community. Another study, this one published in Safety Science, found that well-lit streets make pedestrians feel safer. Politicians, the ones who often shape street lighting decisions, get elected by what the electorate feels to be true, not what actually is true. Moreover, advanced control of street lights can reduce energy and save money.

Where DC Gets It Wrong

Washington, DC’s street light outage monitoring plan relies on residents reporting which of the city’s 70,000 street lights are out. At one point, crowdsourcing a problem like this was innovative; the ubiquity of smartphones and other connected devices only recently permitted such engagement. But, as noted in Navigant Research’s Outdoor Lighting Systems report, adding controls and communication networks to street lights enables municipalities to reduce energy consumption and make monitoring and management more efficient.

The City of Oslo, Norway faced the same challenge in 2010 (back when crowdsourcing was still a thing). The city relied on reports from residents to identify street light failures for its 55,000 street lights. Oslo wanted to make repair crews more efficient and also be able to reduce light levels as needed. In response, the city connected its street lighting into a single remotely accessible network that allows monitoring and control of light levels through Internet-based applications. The move reduced energy use by 62% while also reducing lamp downtime.

 

Smart Cities Week Highlights the Market’s Transition from Technology to People

— October 6, 2016

CarsharingA key theme reiterated at Smart Cities Week in Washington, DC was the recent evolution of the smart cities market to focus prospective projects more on people and how they would be affected by new technology, rather than the technology itself. As stated in one of my previous blogs, one of the keys to Columbus, Ohio winning the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Smart City Challenge and beating out the better-known technology centers of San Francisco, Austin, and Denver was the city’s ability to demonstrate that its plan would result in increasing poor residents’ access to new transportation options.

Keynote speakers at the conference also discussed the White House’s recent announcement that it will be providing an additional $80 million for smart city projects in response to the enormous interest that the DOT Smart City Challenge received. The majority of the new funding is expected to go toward the National Science Foundation.

Transportation and Economic Opportunity

Transportation as a connection to social inclusion was another key focus area of Smart Cities Week. US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated, “We have an opportunity … This is the first time in the history of our nation that we have a chance to build a transportation ecosystem that isn’t weighed down by exclusions, but is built on inclusion.” Again using Columbus as an example, the city is developing an app that would enable residents to pay for a multitude of transportation options (i.e., public transit, ride-hailing, and carsharing) through universal fare cards, with kiosks being set up in poorer communities to allow residents without smartphones or bank accounts to still have access to mobility services. Connecting to the socioeconomic challenges of cities is an important element in gaining citizen support for smart city programs.

City Infrastructure Under Transformation

As cities around the world continue to reach a boiling point in terms of traffic congestion and a lack of parking availability, smart city solutions have the potential to completely transform city infrastructure, improving quality of life and increasing the efficiency of cities. Low-cost autonomous ride-hailing programs could remove much of the need for excessive personal vehicles on the road and alleviate ubiquitous on-street parking. New spaces for walking and bicycling would be opened up, transforming the city into a more inclusive space, with low-cost transportation options for all residents.

 

Is the Smart City Market Entering an Acquisition Phase?

— September 19, 2016

Intelligent BuildingIn my last blog, I wrote about how the smart city market is at an important point in its evolution. In that blog, I focused on the changing priorities for smart city projects. Another side to this evolution is the changing market dynamics as suppliers refine their approach to the market and look to extend their capabilities. The most recent Navigant Research Leaderboard Report on smart city suppliers shows the continuing evolution in strategy and offerings among key players in the market.

One important indicator of the maturity of any technology market is the level and focus of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity. It is a sign of the relative immaturity and uncertainty associated with smart cities as a market that there has been little activity in recent years. But there are indications this is changing.

Internet of Things Focus

The acquisition of sensor network company Sensity by telecoms giant Verizon is the latest example—and one of the most significant. Sensity provides sensors and network controls for street lighting systems and has been targeting the emerging market for city platforms. For Verizon, the move marks a step up in its Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities strategy and gives it the ability to offer a range of city solutions beyond intelligent street lighting, such as traffic management, smart parking, security, and air quality monitoring. It also increases Verizon’s attractiveness as a partner in the complex ecosystem of smart city and IoT suppliers. The alignment with the company’s broader IoT strategy is important to this acquisition, as well. Indeed, the growing focus on IoT capabilities across the technology industry is one of the main reasons why the smart city acquisition picture is changing. Cisco’s $1.4 billion acquisition of IoT platform provider Jasper Technologies in early 2016 can be seen as part of the same pattern. While enhancing their ability to play a bigger role in the IoT space, Verizon and Cisco are also developing strong smart city platforms. Moves from other big players for sensor technology and IoT platform providers are likely to be on the cards.

Analytics Companies

It is not only IoT technologies that are being acquired; analytics companies are also on the shopping list. Urban Engines, a specialist in the use of advanced analytics for the Internet of Moving Things, has announced that it is to become part of Google Maps. Founded by former Google employees, this may be more of a homecoming than an acquisition. However, it suggests that some of the more niche analytics providers in the smart city space will eventually find their home as part of a broader platform offering from bigger players.

Application-Specific Solutions

The third area of the market that we can expect to see more M&A activity is in application-specific solutions. This is an area with a greater history of activity. IBM, for example, has been adding to its roster of government solutions for a number of years in areas like intelligence and social care. But there has been less activity in new application areas. One exception is Silver Springs Networks’ move to strengthen its hand with the acquisition of street lighting software specialist Streetlight.Vision. If acquisition activity is stepping up across the market, the next phase could see more activity in other emerging solution areas such as smart parking and smart waste, for example.

These important developments will add spice to the conversation at Smart Cities Week in Washington, DC next week. I will be attending with other colleagues from Navigant Research and look forward to discussing these and other issues. Let me know if you would like to meet up at the event.

 

Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date

Tags

Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Finance & Investing, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Smart Transportation Program, Transportation Efficiencies, Utility Innovations

By Author


{"userID":"","pageName":"Smart Cities","path":"\/tag\/smart-cities","date":"12\/2\/2016"}