Navigant Research Blog

Panasonic-Denver Partnership Highlights Cultural Considerations in Smart City Projects

— February 22, 2016

Bangkok SkylineIn January 2016, Japan-based Panasonic and the city of Denver, Colorado announced a partnership to transform the mountain municipality into a smart city, with a focus on improvements to transportation, energy efficiency, water conservation, and public safety, among other services. The focus project of the public-private partnership is the creation of a greenfield community southwest of the Denver International Airport called Peña Station NEXT.

Using Panasonic’s CityNOW approach, the new community in Denver is being modeled on the successful development of the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town in Japan. Fujisawa is 31 miles west of Tokyo and as has a comprehensive smart city implementation across multiple applications, including smart street lights and  rooftop solar panels that power homes during the day while fuel cells and batteries are utilized at night. The community is also in walking distance to public transportation, and electric cars and bicycles are widely available for rent.

This is a significant example of how companies like Panasonic are trying to take best practices from smart city projects in Japan to North America and other markets. Other Japanese giants have also been working with North American and European cities on a range of pilots and demonstrator programs, but the Panasonic-Denver collaboration is one of the most significant commercial projects to date.

Cultural Challenges

However, the translation of experiences in Japan to the United States raises some interesting challenges. According to the Denver Post, Denver’s smart city initiatives will have several different applications compared to what took place in Fujisawa, primarily in order to account for cultural and social differences between the two countries. Camera monitors with facial recognition spike much higher privacy concerns in the United States compared to Japan; as a result, the Denver project is expected to be much less intrusive. Instead of shared cars and bicycles, the Peña Station NEXT community is likely to use shuttles with parking garages and parking lots to accommodate some personal vehicle usage. In addition, far-reaching liability concerns in the United States mean that automated street lights are also unlikely, with dimming ability being a more realistic approach. While many of the same essential technologies that were tested in Fujisawa (i.e., cameras, smart street lights) are being applied in Denver, precisely how they are going to be used is being augmented for cultural considerations.

Through the partnership with Panasonic, Denver looks to improve its greenhouse gas emissions per capita, as the city’s sprawling infrastructure all too often encourages driving as the primary means of transportation. According to a 2011 World Bank report, Denver ranks far below other more densely populated cities with 23.7 tons of CO2 emissions per person. It’s a high figure, especially when compared to other locations like New York City (8.7), San Francisco (10.1), and Boston (13.3). The American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Denver County has some of the highest rates in the country of commuters driving to work from surrounding counties.

While there are several common themes that go into making a city smart (such as digital technology, sustainability, mobility, and financing), how these factors are implemented changes drastically by jurisdiction. Initiatives that helped Japanese cities become smarter are likely to have relevance in other countries such as the United States, but some differences in implementation are needed for project success.

 

Economic Factors Dictate Energy Storage Market Dynamics

— February 18, 2016

Tablet Device with StatisticsAs the energy storage industry continues to mature around the world, leading country markets are taking shape in very different ways. There are a number of factors that determine the dynamics of the energy storage industry in a given country, including the mix of technologies and applications that are most common. According to Navigant Research’s Country Forecasts for Grid-Tied Energy Storage report, the level of development in a given country’s economy will have a significant impact on the local energy storage market. The report forecasts that the largest markets for grid-tied energy storage in the coming decade will be the United States, China, Germany, and India. These four countries represent both sides of the spectrum, spanning from highly advanced to developing economies. This is an important distinction, as countries with developing economies typically have highly regulated energy markets, while more advanced economies often bring about market deregulation.

Economic factors dictating energy storage dynamics in developing economies such as China and India include ongoing electrification projects as well as rapidly growing urban populations. These countries also tend to have much less reliable grids compared to more advanced economies, which leads to greater demand for microgrids and behind-the-meter energy storage systems that can protect customers from more frequent power outages. However, despite this, we see a more balanced mix of utility-scale and distributed energy storage in China and India. This is partially due to the drive for improved reliability on the part of grid operators in addition to the grid continuing to expand geographically to serve new customers. These countries are also seeing energy storage markets that have more top-down control by regulators. As a result, there is much less diversity in the types of storage technologies being deployed, with only four energy storage technologies in use in China and just three in India.

Advanced Economies

In contrast to China and India, the more advanced economies of the United States and Germany are seeing much more participation from third-party energy storage providers, including independent power producers. As a result of this dynamic and less central government control, there is a much greater diversity of technologies installed. Nineteen different energy storage technologies are in use in the United States and eight in Germany. Due to the deregulated energy markets, customers in these countries are more empowered to control their energy usage. As a result, Germany is expected to have the greatest percentage of distributed energy storage, with nearly 73% of new storage capacity over the next 10 years. A similar dynamic is at play in the United States, where up to 60% of new energy storage capacity will come from distributed systems in certain areas over the next decade.

While a number of factors will determine the mix of technologies and applications for energy storage in a given country, the level of economic development plays a major role. This dynamic highlights how important it is for vendors and project developers to understand the differences between individual countries and which factors affect the energy storage market. For example, the need for channel partners or close relationships with utilities may be much greater in developing economies where utilities are more likely to own storage themselves. Navigant Research’s recently published Energy Storage Tracker 1Q 2016 report offers a broad database of projects that provide valuable insights into the specifics of energy storage markets around the world.

 

Weather Still Poses a Hurdle for ADAS and Autonomous Vehicles

— February 18, 2016

Dashboard Display or Speedometer in a vehiclePrior to the 20th century, travelers had to directly contend with the vagaries of weather as they made their way from place to place. The invention of the automobile helped put a layer of abstraction between humans and the environment, and we can now sit in relative comfort and look out through windshields that are continuously wiped as we make our way through rain, sleet, and snow. As engineers develop the coming generations of cars that rely on high-tech sensors to observe the world and drive themselves, those sensors now have to deal directly with the elements that humans once faced.

Getting a car to reliably drive itself around a Las Vegas parking lot or the streets of Silicon Valley is by no means a trivial task, but engineers from most of the top automotive OEMs and suppliers have managed to work out the fundamentals. Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report projects that there will be almost 85 million autonomous-capable vehicles on the road globally by 2035. However, before we can all tear up our driver’s licenses, engineers will have to figure out to do the same thing in wintry Detroit and monsoon-soaked Mumbai.

Advancing Systems

In recent months, I’ve evaluated many new vehicles with the latest and greatest advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), including lane departure prevention, forward collision warning with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and blindspot monitors. These functions are the building blocks of autonomous vehicles. Engineers are now fusing signals from the ADAS sensors with high-definition maps and new LIDAR sensors to create a comprehensive image of the world around the car. On top of this sensor fusion image, they are building control algorithms to make the decisions about when to accelerate, brake, and steer.

Unfortunately, if the sensors can’t reliably see the world through the elements, the algorithms just shut down. Such was the case recently while driving a 2016 Hyundai Sonata hybrid during a snowy morning rush hour. The radar-based adaptive cruise control does a wonderful job of tracking the vehicle ahead as speeds fluctuate, reducing the workload on the driver. However, after about 15 miles, the radar sensor became so caked up with slush that a warning came in the instrument panel that the system was disengaging and the sensor should be cleaned. Similarly, the camera on a Volvo XC90 was unable to see the lane markers on a dark, rainy morning and disengaged the lane departure warning system.

The Road Ahead

In January 2016, Ford became the first automaker to test autonomous vehicles in snowy conditions at the Mcity test track in Ann Arbor, Michigan. With snow covering the roads, features like lane markings and even curbs were not visible. Last summer, Ford scanned the track with the LIDAR sensors on its autonomous Fusion vehicles to produce a high-definition 3D map that included all of the physical features and landmarks. Ford used this map to locate the Fusion in the snow by matching those landmarks such as signs and buildings even without seeing the road surface.

Delphi has been demonstrating an autonomous Audi Q5 that replaces the spinning rooftop LIDAR sensors with solid-state sensors from Quanergy Systems mounted in the corners of the vehicle. Quanergy, Valeo, and other sensor suppliers are developing sophisticated digital filtering algorithms to help the sensors see better through falling rain and snow. While all of these approaches are helping to make autonomous control more robust, the vision, radar, and LIDAR sensors still need to be kept clear in order to provide this capability. In time, these problems will probably be overcome, but it will take a lot more effort.

 

Emerging Emergencies in Water Infrastructure

— February 18, 2016

Oil refinery plant along riverWater isn’t something we tend to think about until something goes wrong. As a recent homebuyer, I learned this lesson when my kitchen faucet erupted, soaking through towels, cats, and my sanity. It’s almost incomprehensible for me to consider something going wrong on a citywide, let alone countrywide, scale. However, there have been many recent scandals involving water treatment in the United States, including Flint, Michigan’s lead contamination and the Gold King mine spill into the Animas River in Colorado. Here and around the world, aging and insufficient infrastructure does not allow for proper treatment of drinking water and wastewater. Yet the technology exists and regulations are in place to prevent excessive water contamination. And now, with even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) declaring water to be drastically underpriced, the real question is this: who will pay for infrastructure upgrades?

In Flint, Michigan, the main problem contributing to lead contamination is a lack of modern infrastructure. Aging lead pipes in combination with corrosive river water have led to dangerously high concentrations of lead. The University of Michigan-Flint is recommending that residents install point-of-use filtration to avoid consuming excessive contaminants. As is the case with many examples of pollution, the burden of poor water quality seems to fall hardest on those who can’t afford extra treatment. On January 12, the National Guard was mobilized to distribute bottled water and filters to residents of Flint. Congresswoman Candice Miller proposed a bill to provide $1 billion to replace Flint’s aging pipe infrastructure and eliminate the lead. Sourcing this money is proving to be the main setback, though it will likely come from revolving funds.

A Global Infrastructure Crisis

Aging infrastructure in the United States presents many problems with water contamination. In other regions of the world, infrastructure has a hard time keeping up with population growth. China, for example, produces an annual volume of wastewater roughly equivalent to the annual flow of the Yellow River, at 68.5 billion tonnes. This growth is primarily in domestic wastewater discharge, rather than industrial—in fact, the rate of industrial wastewater discharge is actually decreasing. While the total rate of contaminated discharge remains high, total discharge to key river bodies has decreased significantly with the elimination of many small enterprises.

Water treatment is a major concern in India as well. In fact, according to India’s Central Pollution Control Board, the installed capacity of wastewater treatment only covers about 30% of what the country generates. In one study performed by this group, it was found that almost no water treatment plants followed “a uniform or set pattern of operation and maintenance.” Rapidly increasing populations mean that the already strained infrastructure will face more drastic challenges. By 2030, the projected demand for potable water in India alone will reach 1.5 trillion cubic meters annually.

In 2010, the United Nations explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation. Yet with the slow growth of new infrastructure (and rapidly failing old infrastructure), this right is not guaranteed anywhere in the world. Underpricing water undermines its value and prevents proper infrastructure; the incentive system for global water use needs to be drastically revised if we are to provide this right.

 

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