Navigant Research Blog

Security Proves to Be a Strong Proposition for the Smart Home

— October 17, 2017

Nest has long been known as the Google-backed consumer products company responsible for the innovative and sleek Nest Learning Thermostat. The company has had a fairly limited selection of consumer products for years. It only expanded upon its original thermostat with the Nest Protect smoke detector in 2013 and the Nest Indoor and Outdoor Cams in 2015 and 2016 to bring its total portfolio to four wholly original devices.

Because the company is slow to unveil new products, any hardware releases from Nest are major news. So when Nest announced six new products last week, it made a big splash in the consumer electronics industry. However, the sheer volume of products in this latest announcement is not the most significant part of this news. Rather, it’s the fact that these products are all security related.

Smart Technology Adoption Is Increasing

Nest’s new product rollout emphasizes the growing importance of security as a value proposition for the adoption of smart home technologies. In the United States, consumers are adopting smart technologies through security providers to help increase awareness of what is going on in their homes and feel more secure and protected.

Security systems no longer include only an alarm system and sensors that monitor when a home’s perimeter is breached, but also include connected cameras, door locks, door bells, and garage door openers. These devices create an ecosystem that monitors the home in and out and can help optimize and automate the operations of a home.

Comcast’s Security Offerings

Nest isn’t the only company engaging in the smart home space through security. Comcast has increasingly become involved in the smart home space through its Xfinity Home security service. The company has invested in home automation through its acquisition of iControl and its partnership with Whisker Labs and is utilizing its existing infrastructure and resources to move further into the security and home automation business.

These moves allow Comcast to create new streams of revenue as some of its traditional business models come under threat, like its cable TV business. Vivint Smart Home is another company offering home security and automation products and services, and already has a video monitoring package similar to what Nest has just announced, alongside a suite of other smart technologies likes its Element smart thermostat.

Value Propositions and Consumer Benefits

There are many different value propositions for the smart home outside of security, including energy, comfort and convenience, automation, and health and wellness. The home energy management space was one of the first to introduce smart home technologies, including smart thermostats, but now there are different value propositions for smart home technologies by region. In the United States, security has prevailed, while energy is still the most popular in Europe.

These value propositions help demonstrate to consumers the benefits of smart technologies and how they can significantly affect their lives. Smart technologies for security can help consumers protect themselves and their families, and energy devices can help consumers save money on their energy bills and contribute to a greener planet. This helps drive the adoption of smart technologies and push the concept of a smart home closer to reality.

 

As Demand Soars, Construction of LNG Terminals Booms

— November 24, 2014

International marine construction companies are seeing a bonanza of new projects as countries around the world approve massive new terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) – for imports in most cases, and for exports from North America, Australia, and some Southeast Asian countries.  Altogether, this frenzy of port building could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade as seaborne trade in LNG climbs to meet spiraling demand, particularly in the energy-hungry countries of China, India, and other Asian nations.

Total deliveries of LNG were flat in 2013 compared to 2012, according to the BG Group, but this masks pent-up demand, as producers in the United States are ramping up export capacity and importing countries are scrambling to build import terminals.  BG Group forecasts that worldwide LNG demand is expected to increase at a rate of 5% annually through 2025, with much higher rates in the developing countries of Asia.

North America

In September, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave final approval to the Cove Point LNG facility, overruling the objections of environmental groups and bringing to four the number of U.S. export terminals officially approved and under construction.  All told, 14 terminals are seeking approval by federal regulators in the United States, on the Gulf Coast, the East Coast, and the Pacific Northwest.  The Northwest facilities, in particular, face fierce opposition from environmentalists opposed to the increased fracking that large quantities of U.S. exports will entail.  With big potential markets waiting not only across the Pacific, but also in Europe, U.S. oil & gas companies and their representatives in Washington, D.C. are eager for more export capacity to come online.  There are also at least a dozen LNG terminals proposed along the coast of British Columbia.

Europe

With unrest in Ukraine giving rise to fears of disruptions of natural gas supplies from Russia, which provides 30% of Europe’s natural gas, European governments and companies are scrambling to build new import facilities.  Paradoxically, with international supplies limited and with Japan, which relies more heavily on imported natural gas for its energy supply than any other country, soaking up much of the available supply at inflated prices, imports to Europe have declined in the last couple of years.  The Gate terminal on the North Sea coast near Rotterdam was built with the support of the Dutch government to maintain the Netherlands’ status as a regional gas hub.  It is now running at 10% of capacity, according to The Economist.

Nevertheless, imports from the United States are sure to increase, and the European Union sees the construction of new import terminals as a critical matter of regional energy security.  Lithuania, for example, is due to open a massive new floating terminal this year or in early 2015.  New terminals are especially important along Europe’s vulnerable southeastern coast, as currently countries in the area are essentially captive customers to Russia’s Gazprom.

Amos Hochstein, the acting U.S. special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs, testified recently before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying that “[there is a] critical need for Europe to improve its energy infrastructure by constructing new pipelines, upgrading interconnectors to allow bidirectional flow, and building new LNG terminals to diversify fuel sources … We support proposals to build LNG terminals at critical points on European coasts, from Poland to Croatia to the Baltics.”

Asia

The biggest building boom is underway in China, where three import new terminals came online in 2013 and at least two more are expected begin operation before the end of this year.  Already, half of the world’s capacity for regasification (the conversion of LNG to conventional natural gas, for transport by pipeline) is located in Asia.

“China’s imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are growing at a record pace,” reported Reuters earlier this year, “as it aims to use cleaner fuels to cut smog in big cities, creating a powerful new source of demand that has the potential to reshape the market for the super-chilled gas.”  China’s LNG imports grew 35% in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2013.

Meanwhile, new production is emerging from Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.  Also, Singapore, which sits at the mouth of the Strait of Malacca, through which passes more than half of the world’s seaborne LNG, has formed ambitious plans to be the LNG trading hub for Southeast and East Asia.

These LNG terminals tend to cost around $10 billion apiece.  It’s a good time to be in the business of building them.

 

Rough Water Ahead for Europe’s Energy Efficiency Efforts

— June 17, 2014

Despite the heightened focus on energy security following events in Ukraine, recent election results, which showed a rise in anti-European Union (EU) voting, promise a challenging period ahead for energy efficiency advocates.

According to the European Alliance for Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EuroACE), the month of June, for Europe, brings Energy Dependence Day – the day the EU effectively runs out of indigenous energy and must rely on foreign imports.  With 54% of final energy consumption in 2011 imported, June 18 marked the day Europe used up domestic resources and turned to imports to fulfil its energy demands.  As imports increase, Energy Dependence Day tends to arrive earlier in the year (this year, it’s expected to happen in the second half of June).  In 1995, when Europe only imported 43% of its final energy, Energy Dependence Day came 38 days later, on July 26.

Researchers at Oxfam have suggested that even if the EU fulfils its multiple climate and energy targets, Europe’s energy bill could still surge from €400 billion in 2013 to €500 billion ($543 billion-$679 billion) by 2030 on account of price increases.  Energy demand alone is expected to increase 27% by 2030.  Should Europe fail to meet the agreed targets, it’s difficult to predict how much higher the bill could escalate.

Securing Europe

Energy efficiency surely has a major role to play in any strategy addressing the continent’s mounting import bill.  According to ECOFYS, improving energy efficiency by 40%, together with an energy mix boasting 45% renewables, could save €396 per person annually.  In May, EuroACE campaigned for such a figure as part of a binding target on energy efficiency.

Yet, in the latest European Energy Security Strategy, hastily published in response to the situation in Ukraine, energy efficiency is largely neglected.  Instead, attention centers on securing alternative gas sources in the form of domestic shale reserves or liquefied natural gas (LNG) from overseas.

A Fragmented Landscape

While Russia flexes its muscles on Europe’s gas supply, the political will for collective action in Europe has been severely undermined by last month’s European Parliament elections.  Opposition to EU green policy has been fast to seize the recent election results as evidence of resistance.  On June 2, Energy UK cited the results as vindication for a shift away from the existing “emotion driven and expensive agenda.”

So, how likely is it that a previously elusive binding target on energy efficiency can be legislated under one of the most anti-EU European Parliaments yet? It’s certainly difficult to remain optimistic, despite the urgency political events have generated.  As I discussed in my previous blog, the recent compilation of National Energy Efficiency Action Plans has largely been deemed insufficient by critics, suggesting a lack of engagement among member states.

Yet, buildings account for 40% of Europe’s final energy consumption.  A binding target addressing Europe’s building stock and its energy-saving potential would be one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing Europe’s energy dependence – surely something everyone in the EU would like to see.  But action speaks louder than words.  So far, words far exceed action on energy efficiency in Europe.

 

Building the Business Case for Commercial Microgrids

— January 15, 2014

The majority of microgrids that have come online to date – whether grid-connected or off-grid – have been pilot projects or research and development (R&D) experiments.  Now the industry is moving into the next phase of project development, focusing on how to develop projects on fully commercial terms.  It appears that the main technology components have made significant headway, and the keys to future growth now rest with greater creativity in both the public policy and business model arenas.  One pathway that could address the latter is through power purchase agreements (PPAs).

The increasing frequency of severe weather is prompting utilities in the United States and around the world to reconsider their historic opposition to customer-owned microgrids that can disconnect from the larger grid and island, allowing critical mission functions to stay up and running.  Yet, utilities continue to worry about how a proliferation of customer-owned microgrids might complicate their job and whether regulators would instead allow utilities to build, own, or control these microgrids in some sort of coordinated, enterprisewide fashion.

Quantifying Reliability

The modularity of microgrids means this: calculating a return on investment (ROI) is virtually impossible.  Vendors claim paybacks ranging from 2 to 5 years, depending upon the amount of new hardware being deployed and the availability of ancillary service revenue streams.  Realizing greater utilization of existing generators through the networking and sharing of resources enabled by a microgrid leads one to the logical conclusion that microgrids will ultimately lower the cost per kilowatt-hour.  Third-party financing can make an even better value proposition.  Selling demand response (DR) services back to utilities provides yet another boost to the bottom line.

The primary metric that remains a mystery is the value of reliability. Quantifying the benefits of reliability is both art and science.  At this point in time, there are no widely recognized financial metrics to monetize the value of energy security and reliability, the key distinguishing feature of a microgrid network.  Analysis conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in 2012 looked at a military base – Fort Belvoir – and found the value of electrical energy security (VEES) at that site ranged from $2.2 million to $3.9 million annually.  The range reflected the mission of the respective loads within the base and recent performance metrics of each utility.  Since each microgrid is a customized solution, it is also difficult to generalize about any VEES cost advantages such networks can offer compared to a host distribution utility (whose cost of service also varies per geography and utility market structure).

Open is Better

Putting aside for the moment the lack of consensus on monetizing the energy security of a microgrid, what about financing? Can PPAs do for microgrids what it did for solar PV? Companies such as Green Energy Corporation and Leidos are betting on it.

In order for the PPA business model to work, the network controls must be based on a streamlined and open architecture. Given that microgrids are much more complex than a simple solar PV system, companies willing to enter into long-term PPAs must be smart about risk and choose suppliers wisely, favoring simple, elegant controls that do not require ongoing customized engineering every time a new resource is integrated into the microgrid.

Navigant Research is betting on the PPA to help move microgrids into the mainstream in North America, as a new market forecast demonstrates (see chart below.)

Annual Total Microgrid Vendor Revenue by Region, Base Scenario, World Markets: 2013-2020

 

(Source: Navigant Research)

 

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