post

The coming together of the Internet of Things and Smart Grids

I was asked to speak at the recent SAP TechEd && d-code (yes, two ampersands, that’s the branding, not a typo) on the topic of the Internet of Things and Energy.

This is a curious space, because, while the Internet of Things is all the rage now in the consumer space, the New Black, as it were; this is relatively old hat in the utilities sector. Because utilities have expensive, critical infrastructure in the field (think large wind turbines, for example), they need to be able to monitor them remotely. These devices use Internet of Things technologies to report back to base. this is quite common on the high voltage part of the electrical grid.

On the medium voltage section, Internet of Things technologies aren’t as commonly deployed currently (no pun), but mv equipment suppliers are more and more adding sensors to their equipment so that they too can report back. In a recent meeting at Schneider Electric’s North American headquarters, CTO Pascal Brosset announced that Schneider were able to produce a System on a Chip (SoC) for $2, and as a consequence, Schneider were going to add one to all their equipment.

And then on the low voltage network, there are lots of innovations happening behind the smart meter. Nest thermostats, Smappee energy meters, and SmartThings energy apps are just a few of the many new IoT things being released recently.

Now if only we could connect them all up, then we could have a really smart grid.

In case you are in the area, and interested, I’ll be giving a more business-focussed version of this talk at our Business of IoT event in London on Dec 4th.

The slides for this talk are available on SlideShare.

post

Technology for Good – episode thirty seven with Mike Maney

Welcome to episode thirty seven of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show our guest is independent spin doctor Mike Maney. Mike is a regular attendee, and supporter of our annual Monktoberfest conference, and an all-round good guy!

Some of the more fascinating stories we looked at on the show, included a look into the latest developments in mobile payments, Microsoft making Office free on all mobile platforms, and Facebook launched it’s own Tor site.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:

Climate

Energy

Hardware

ePayments

Apps

Security

Wearables

3d Printing

Transport

Sustainability

post

GE publishes Grid Resiliency survey

GE Grid Survey Infographic

GE’s Digital Energy business produced this infographic recently, based on the results of its Grid Resiliency Survey measuring the U.S. public’s current perception of the power grid. The survey was conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of GE from May 02-06, 2014 among 2,049 adults ages 18 and older and from June 3-5, 2014 among 2,028 adults ages 18 and older.

Given the fact that hurricane Sandy was still reasonably fresh in people’s minds, and that polar vortices meant that early 2014 saw particularly harsh weather, it is perhaps not surprising that 41% of the respondents East of the Mississippi were more willing to pay $10 extra a month to ensure the grid is more reliable. A further 34% of those leaving West of the Mississippi would be willing to pay more for a more reliable grid.

What is most surprising is that the numbers are so low, to be honest. Especially the 41% figure, given that energy consumers East of the Mississippi had three times as many power outages as those living West of the Mississippi.

What’s the alternative to paying more? Home generation? Solar power is dropping in price, but it is still a very long term investment. And the cost of a decent generator can be $800 or more. And that’s just to buy it. Then there’s fuel and maintenance on top of that. As well as the inconvenience an outage brings.

Here in Europe, because most of the lines are underground, outages are very rare. The last electricity outage I remember was Dec 24th 1997, after a particularly severe storm in Ireland, for example.

The really heartening number to take away from this survey is that 81% of utility customers expect their energy company to use higher levels of renewables in the generation mix. If that expectation can be turned into reality, we’ll all be a lot better off.

post

Technology for Good – episode thirty six with Esteban Kolsky

Welcome to episode thirty six of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show our guest is independent analyst Enterprise Irregulars, but this was the first time Esteban and I had had a face-to-face conversation (or screen-to-screen, more accurately!).

The change of clocks in Europe the weekend before the show almost derailed us, and there was a mix-up (my fault) whereby Esteban didn’t get to join the show until twenty minutes in, but still, it was a great show and we had some awesome discussions.

Some of the more fascinating stories we looked at on the show, included some major moves on the energy storage front, big announcements from Google and Microsoft on the health/fitness front, and the new partnership between Twitter and IBM.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:

 

Climate

Energy

Health

Transparency

Social

Apps

Hardware

Wearables

Comms

post

Schneider Electric – focussed on making organisations more efficient

Schneider Influencer Summit

We were invited to attend this year’s Schneider Electric Influencer Summit and jumped at the chance. Why? Schneider Electric is a fascinating company with fingers in lots of pies, and we were keen to learn more about this company.

Schneider Electric was founded in 1836, so the company is coming up on 180 years old. Schneider reported revenue of almost €23.5bn in 2013, of which €1.9bn was profit, and employs in the order of 152,000 people globally. So, not an insignificant organisation.

The Influencer Summit coincided with the opening of its Boston One campus, Schneider Electric’s new facility in Andover. This site is now Schneider’s main R&D lab, as well as its North American HQ. Situating its main R&D labs in its HQ says a lot about how Schneider views the importance of research and development. In fact, at the event Schneider EVP and North American CEO Laurent Vernerey, reported that Schneider devotes 4-5% of sales to R&D annually.

At the influencer event, we discovered the breath of Schneider’s portfolio went far beyond what we were aware of. Not only are they heavily involved in electrical automation, control and distribution systems, but they also help make highly energy efficient data centres (they bought APC back in 2007), they have building management solutions, a cybersecurity suite (developed especially for critical infrastructure), water management solutions, a smart cities business, a weather forecasting arm (with a staff of 80 meteorologists!), and a strong services division. See, fingers in lots of pies!

Schneider Electric, as its name suggests, was traditionally more of a hardware company, but with the move to the digitisation of infrastructure, that has changed fundamentally, and Schneider is now very much a software company as well as a hardware one. Of the 20,000 employees in North America, 1,200 are software engineers.

This digitisation of infrastructure is happening at an ever increasing pace, helped by the constantly falling price of electronics and sensors. If it costs a mere $2.50 to put an SoC on a piece of infrastructure, why wouldn’t you do it? Particularly when adding the SoC makes the device IP addressable. Now it can report back on its status in realtime. As Schneider CMO Chris Hummel said, “connected systems will fundamentally change everything”.

Addressing potential security issues associated with making critical infrastructure IP addressable Schneider said that connected devices are more secure than disconnected devices because they can be monitored, and everything that’s done to them can be tracked.

With that in mind, it is not surprising that Schneider is a member of the Industrial Internet Consortium.

While it is always instructive to hear a company’s executives talking about their organisation, it is always far more interesting to hear their customers speak. And this event didn’t disappoint on that score. The customer speaker in this case was Todd Isherwood, the Energy Efficiency and Alternative Energy project manager for the City of Boston. Todd discussed how the City of Boston, with 15,000 employees, 2,700 utility accounts and a $50m electricity spend was working with Schneider Electric on its journey to becoming a more sustainable city.

Boston launched its Greenovate Boston campaign, it passed its Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO). This Ordinance requires Boston’s large- and medium-sized buildings to report their annual energy and water use to the City of Boston, after which the City makes the information publicly available. All of which will have helped Boston achieve its ranking of most energy efficient city in the US.

The biggest takeaway from the event though, was that Schneider Electric is, at its core, hugely interested in helping organisations become more efficient. And seemingly for all the right reasons. That’s not something you can say about many companies. And because of that, we’ll be watching Schneider with great interest from here on out.

Disclosure – Schneider Electric paid my travel and accommodation expenses to attend this event.

post

Technology for Good – episode thirty four with Salesforce’s John Tascheck

Welcome to episode thirty four of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode our guest was SalesForce SVP of Strategy, John Taschek. John and I are both longtime members of the Enterprise Irregulars, but this was the first time John and I had had a conversation outside of email!

Some of the more fascinating stories we looked at on the show, included a very successful Kickstarter campaign for a small router which can completely anonymise your internet activity, Lockheed Martin announcing that they’ve made a breakthrough on nuclear fusion technology, and Satya Nadella’s response to his gaffe last week about women seeking a raise.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:

 

Climate

Energy

Hardware

Internet of Things

Wearables

Mobility

Comms

Privacy

Open Source

Sustainability

post

Technology for Good – episode thirty three with Jon Collins

Welcome to episode thirty three of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode our guest was Jon Collins. I’ve known Jon for quite some time online and met him for the first time at out ThingMonk conference last year. In honour of that, I wore my ThingMonk t-shirt for the show!

Some of the more fascinating stories we looked at on the show, included Glasgow University becoming the first university in Europe to divest from fossil fuels, Code.org partnering with Google, and Microsoft to help 100M students learn computer science, and Susan Scrupski’s new venture, Big Mountain Data using Big Data to tackle the problem of domestic violence.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:

 

Climate

Energy

Lighting

Transportation

Smart Cities

Comms

Compute

Mobile

Sustainability

Education

Women in Tech

post

Technology for Good – episode thirty two with SAP’s Sameer Patel

Welcome to episode thirty two of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had SAP‘s Sameer Patel as the guest on our show. Sameer and I are members of the Enterprise Irregulars group – a loose group of analysts and vendors with an interest in enterprise software. Previous Enterprise Irregulars who have guested on the show include David Terrar, Craig Cmehil, and Jon Reed.

There was a problem which wasn’t apparent to us during the show and that was that the video from my side never showed up in the recording. I suspect that’s because I was using a beta version of Chrome, but anyway, the audio, and Sameer’s video feed was recorded, so all’s well.

This week we didn’t get through all the stories we had lined up, ‘cos we had such a good discussion around the ones we did manage to fit in!

Some of the more fascinating stories we looked at on the show, included the growing number of technology companies who are abandoning ALEC, IBM’s new concentrating solar array which can create clean water, as well as solar power, and a new smartphone app which will help visually challenged users to read.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:

 

Climate

Renewables

Lighting

Transportation

Data Centres

Connectivity

Drones

Hardware

Apps

Education

 

post

Customer service, in-memory computing, and cloud? The utility industry is changing.

SAP For Utilities 2014 Exec Panel

I attended this year’s North American SAP for Utilities event and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the things I found there.

The utilities industry (electricity, gas, and water) are regulated industries which can’t go down (or at least, shouldn’t go down). Because of this, the industry is very slow to change (the old “if it ain’t broke…” mindset). However, with technology relentlessly enabling more and more efficiencies at the infrastructure level, utilities need to learn how to be agile without affecting their service.

This is challenging, sure. But, on the other hand, organisations like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are incredibly nimble, updating their technologies all the time, and yet they have far better uptime figures than most utilities, I suspect (when is the last time Google was down for you, versus when did your electricity last go out?).

Having said all that, at this year’s event I saw glimmers of hope.

There were a number of areas where change is being embraced:

  1. Customer Service – utility companies have traditionally not been very consumer friendly. This is the industry which refers to its customers as rate payers, and end-points. However, that is starting to break down. This breakdown has been hastened in some regions by market liberalisation, and in all areas by the huge adoption of social media by utility customers. SAP for Utilities agenda
    Utility companies are now starting to adopt social media and utilise some of the strategies we have spoken about and written about so often here.
    What was really encouraging though, was to see that one of the four parallel tracks on the first day of the conference was dedicated to usability (which admittedly is more geared to usability of apps for utility employees, but there’s a knock-on for its customers too), and even better, on the second day of the conference, one of the four parallel tracks dedicated to customer engagement!
  2. In-memory computing – SAP has been pushing its SAP HANA in-memory computing platform to all its customers since it was announced in 2010. As mentioned previously, utility companies are slow to change, so it was interesting to listen to Snohomish County PUD CIO Benjamin Beberness, in the conference’s closing keynote, talking about his organisation’s decision to go all-in on SAP’s HANA in-memory platform. I shot an interview with Benjamin which I’ll be publishing here in the next few days where he talks about some of the advantages for Snohomish PUD of in-memory computing.
  3. Cloud computing – and finally, there was some serious talk of the move to Cloud computing by utilities. In the Utility Executive Panel (pictured above), Xcel Energy‘s CIO and VP, David Harkness said that before he retires his organisation will have closed their data center and moved their IT infrastructure entirely to the cloud. And he then added a rider that his retirement is not that far off.
    Given that this was the week after the celebrity photo leaks, there was also, understandably, some discussion about the requirement for cybersecurity, but there was broad acceptance of the inevitability of the move to cloud computing

I have been attending (and occasionally keynoting) this SAP for Utilities event now since 2008 so it has been very interesting to see these changes occurring over time. A year and a half ago I had a conversation with an SAP executive where I said it was too early to discuss cloud computing with utilities. And it was. Then. But now, cloud is seen by utilities as an a logical addition to their IT roadmap. I wouldn’t have predicted that change coming about so soon.

Disclosure – SAP paid my travel and accommodation to attend the event.

post

Technology for Good – episode twenty seven with SalesForce’s Peter Coffee

Welcome to episode twenty seven of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had SalesForce‘s Vice President of Strategic Research, Peter Coffee as the guest on our show.

We have met a talked with Peter a couple of times, and have always been impressed by the breadth of his knowledge, as well as his thoughts on things environmental. Also having seen that, when asked to come up with a challenge for the Cap Gemini Super Techies Show, he went with…

Present a technology vision for taking an existing bicycle manufacturer and retailer to the next level as a transportation option

 

… we were very keen to have Peter as a guest on the show.

We covered some fascinating stories on the show, including the White House’s plan to use technology to unleash data to help America’s agriculture sector, how Facebook’s Internet.org is helping people get online in Zambia, and a new initiative to help parents do simple science experiments at home with their kids.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:

Climate

 

Transport

Apps/Mobile

Apps/Cloud

Crowdsourcing

Security

Open technologies

Moore’s Law

Diversity

Education