Navigant Research Blog

IoT and Millennials

— March 24, 2017

The much studied Millennial generation has some issues with Internet of Things (IoT) devices. A new survey says this cohort of young American adults—ages 18 to 29—is the least likely to own an IoT product. This trend presents a challenge for utilities attempting to promote programs like demand response that can link to IoT products such as smart thermostats, air conditioners, or appliances.

According to the study conducted by the Association of Energy Services Professionals and strategic marketing firm Essense Partners, 85% of Millennial respondents do not own IoT devices. The percentage of non-IoT device owners in the other age groups is as follows: 79% for ages 30-44; 81% for ages 45-59; and 84% for the 60 and older group. The study was conducted among 2,700 consumers.

Among respondents who do own IoT devices, the Millennials also represent the least likely cohort to take part in utility programs. They participate at half the rate of those in the 30-44 and 45-59 age groups, and almost a third of the rate compared to the 60 and older set.

Of course, the main reason for lower ownership of IoT devices among Millennials is they are less likely to be homeowners. Therefore, they are not as likely in the market to buy IoT devices that can help manage energy usage.

But there is another reason lurking around the edges: they are worried the most about the devices being hacked. In a survey conducted by KPMG, 74% of Millennials say they would use more IoT devices if they had more confidence that the devices were secure. Among the other age groups, 63% of Generation Xers hold the same view about device security and nearly half of Baby Boomers (47%) say the same.

Part of the Solution: Device Security Standards

One way to boost confidence among consumers and drive adoption of IoT devices is for industry stakeholders to agree on security standards. An effort that has surfaced recently is being spearheaded by Consumer Reports (CR), which is promoting a digital consumer protection standard, along with its cyber expert partners (digital privacy tools provider Disconnect; privacy policy researcher Ranking Digital Rights; and Cyber Independent Testing Lab). The CR privacy standard has four key features: products should be built to be secure; products should preserve consumer privacy; products should protect the idea of ownership; and companies should act ethically. The full standard is in its first draft, and CR expects stakeholders to help shape and improve it going forward.

The need is evident for IoT device security standards such as CR’s and others like NIST’s Cybersecurity for IoT program and UL’s Cybersecurity Assurance Program. Navigant Research applauds these efforts to create standards, as noted in its report, Emerging IoT Business Models. Utilities would be wise to get behind these efforts as well to ensure that their customers, including skeptical Millennials, gain the confidence to adopt devices like smart thermostats and feel more willing to take part in demand-side management programs.


Preparing for Exponential Technology Innovation: Rethinking Utility 2.0

— March 24, 2017

We are living in an era of exponential technology explosion. Since the performance of these exponential technologies increases rapidly relative to cost and size, they have a knack for completely reshaping markets and societies.

To illustrate, just trace the impact on society from the personal computer through the dawn of the Internet to ubiquitous mobile telecommunications. Connectedness, knowledge sharing, and efficiency across societies have all grown exponentially over the last several decades. There are now nearly 2 billion active users on Facebook, or roughly a quarter of the global population. This is up from 1 million users in 2004—just over a decade ago.

Today’s innovations—artificial intelligence, blockchain, 3D printing, and others—represent the current wave of exponential technologies sowing the seeds of disruption across multiple industries. Collectively, these have catapulted the global economy into what Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum describes as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Combinatorial Platforms

The utility industry is no exception. Exponential energy technologies like solar PV, artificial intelligence, and blockchain have already crossed the critical threshold of acceptance across the energy landscape. At their intersection lies the potential for a complete paradigm shift across the utility industry—what Navigant Research calls the Energy Cloud. Seven Energy Cloud combinatorial platforms are outlined below.

Emerging Exponential Technology Platforms for Utility 2.0

iDER: Integrated distributed energy resources; IoT: Internet of Things

(Source: Navigant Research)

This Fast Company magazine article captures why exponential technologies pose such a unique threat to business-as-usual thinking:

  1. Often benefiting customers by empowering them with more choice and control, exponential technologies fundamentally disrupt the balance of power and reconfigure traditional power structures. This democratization process, in turn, fuels further exponential (not linear) innovation.
  1. They are wildly controversial. This is owed in part to the fact that they are decentralized—or driven forward by a diverse network of individuals working together.
  1. They take transparency to new heights. Exponential technologies are inclined to make patents public (Tesla) or rely on open source code (Bitcoin). This erodes the competitive advantage of incumbent solutions, putting pressure on traditional business models to evolve.
  1. They create exponential potential. This is typically initiated by a groundswell to advance networks among end-use actors. When the aforementioned traits are strung together, conventional value networks in the power industry disintermediate between sources of generation and end consumers.

Utilities are not oblivious to these trends, but galvanizing an integrated organizational response remains challenging for an industry built on a one-way, centralized infrastructure 150 years in the making. As European utilities have shown, balancing necessary investments in new and existing physical assets with the need to diversify business models is not mutually reinforcing—at least in the long run.

Organizational Reboot

Of course, utilities don’t have the luxury of temporarily shutting down for a business model reboot. As one industry expert explains, “It’s like trying to swap the plane’s engine midflight.”

While tapping into new growth opportunities remains vitally important, it’s not always clear which applications or use cases are poised for exponential growth. For each home run, there will be many more failures.

Rather than investing in one-off technologies, focusing on combinatorial platforms will flatten the learning curve for utilities. For example, smart cities offer utilities a test bed for deploying and building value in a quickly evolving landscape—whether across familiar applications (e.g., aggregating load from high performance buildings into a dynamic virtual power plant) or across less familiar ground (e.g., owning and operating fleets of automated EVs).

Regulatory regimes will need to both value and reward utility forays into business model innovation. For their part, utilities should consider implementing an agile investment framework to manage risk in a rapidly evolving technology landscape. By doing so, utilities can minimize their risk exposure while staying ahead of the curve with respect to exponential innovation.


India: An Emerging Smart Meter Superpower

— March 16, 2017

The global smart meter market has experienced a number of transformative events over the past decade. In North America and Europe, the Smart Grid Investment Grant and European Union Directive 2009/72/EC helped jump-start relatively minimal markets into the behemoths they are today. In Asia Pacific, China took the reins as the global leader in smart meter deployments, due in part to a state-sponsored rollout. As more developed markets reach higher penetration levels, the question becomes: Who’s next? India’s recent emergence onto the smart grid scene and ambitious smart meter targets may solidify the country as the next smart meter market superpower.


As China’s massive 2017-2018 deployment winds down, India is quickly emerging to lead the regional marketplace. India represents the largest untapped smart meter market in the world with over 290 million traditional electric meters nationwide. Given the country’s historic challenges with grid reliability and loss prevention, the Ministry of Power (MoP) is advancing an aggressive smart meter rollout. The country’s current smart meter mandate applies to all customers with monthly consumption in excess of 500 kWh by December 2017. This requirement drops to 200 kWh by December 2019 and would apply to approximately 40 million to 45 million customers. The rollout scope was expanded in August 2016 following the MoP approval of India Smart Grid Forum recommendations, and now it will provide smart meters for all customers on a feeder by the year 2032.


These targets seem ambitious for a country that has traditionally struggled with financial constraints and project delays. However, robust growth is still expected as the MoP forms relationships with meter manufacturers and the price of meters falls as a result of high volume purchase orders. Until now, activity has been largely limited to a set of 14 ongoing pilot projects sponsored by the MoP. Yet, planned deployments from private distribution companies like Tata Power help to move the needle toward additional on-the-ground activity. Regarding communications, while a number of solutions are currently being tested, industry sentiment has favored radio frequency (RF) mesh as the prominent solution of choice, with cellular and power line communication (PLC) being used to a lesser extent.

India’s decisions around smart meter deployment will go a long way to determine the overall global market outlook. Smart meter vendors are investing in India because they see ample possibilities in the future. With strong government support and a clear desire by private utilities to pursue smart metering, India is primed for the next smart meter revolution.

More information on India’s smart grid market, including detailed analysis and forecasts, can be found in Navigant Research’s report, FutureGrid India.


European Utilities Are Moving toward New Energy Platforms at Different Paces, Part 1

— March 15, 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 describe six new energy platforms underpinning the energy transformation. In the next two posts, I will show that some European utilities have been more active than others in partnering with, and investing in, companies offering new energy platforms. Finally, 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)

Integrating Distributed Energy Resources (DER) into a single automated system allows utilities to manage resources more simultaneously and optimally than traditional network operations. DER include distributed generation (mostly solar PV systems and combined heat and power plants), energy storage (which can be used as both load and generation depending on the need), EVs (which act as a mobile battery), and demand response (i.e., adjusting customer load in response to a grid signal).

Electric Mobility refers to the electrification of transport and includes bikes, cars, buses, and trucks. The use of electricity as a substitute to traditional fuels requires the deployment of an electric charging infrastructure covering major routes and endpoints—both homes and offices. In addition to decreasing carbon footprint as compared to internal combustion engine vehicles, EVs can be used as a mobile battery providing capacity and flexibility services to the electric grid.

The Internet of Things (IoT) allows remote monitoring and control of objects connected together via a digital network. It provides new services in energy consumption intelligence and optimization for end customers. Residential customers can benefit from a connected home and commercial and industrial customers can benefit from a more intelligent building.

Smart Cities encompass a combination of services in energy, transport, water, and waste management. Such services are enabled by the three abovementioned platforms—DER Integration, Electric Mobility, and the IoT. City managers can benefit from a reduction of the city’s energy consumption and carbon emissions, improvement of residents’ quality of life, and resilience against catastrophic disasters.

Transactive Energy is a more granular approach to exchanging electricity. Traditionally, electricity is generated by large power plants and sold on a central wholesale market to retailers that in turn sell electricity to the end consumer. Transactive Energy leverages peer-to-peer trading technology such as blockchain and allows a more localized exchange of electricity at the individual level. Consumers with onsite DER such as solar PV and battery storage become prosumers and sell the excess electricity to neighboring consumers at a mutually agreed price.

New Telecommunications Networks based on wide-range technologies enable IoT and machine-to-machine communications. Traditional energy and telecommunications companies are competing in deploying and expanding these new networks that are complementary to existing communications systems.

These six new energy platforms require entrepreneurial creativity that is more likely found in a startup environment rather than a traditional utility. This is why several energy utilities—including the largest European utilities—tend to partner with, or invest in, recently created companies focused on some of the new energy platforms. In the next post of this blog series, I will show that some European utilities have been more active than others in partnering with, and investing in, companies offering new energy platforms.

The Energy Cloud


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