Technology for Good – Episode seven

In episode 7 of the Technology for Good hangout we had many great news stories to cover, and some great live discussions using the comments on the event page. The links to the stories are below.

As always, if you know of any stories you think we should cover, or someone we should be talking to, feel free to get in touch (@tomraftery on Twitter, or tom at redmonk.com on good old-fashioned email!).

And, here as promised, are the stories which made the cut for episode 7 of the Technology for Good hangout:

Climate change – doom and gloom

And now on with the good news!!!

Smart grid and renewables

Smart health and wearables

Security

Mobile

Transportation

Efficiency

Miscellaneous

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Green Button and Tendril – developers as kingmakers in the energy space now as well?

Green button

One of the greatest success stories in the energy sector in the last year is the speed with which America’s Green Button initiative has been adopted.

The project started in September 2011 with a challenge laid down by then US CTO Aneesh Chopra:

today at GridWeek, I challenged the smart grid ecosystem to deliver on the vision of Green Button and provide customers access to their energy usage information electronically. With this information at their fingertips, consumers would be enabled to make more informed decisions about their energy use and, when coupled with opportunities to take action, empowered to actively manage their energy use

His challenge was taken up by the industry with almost unseemly haste.

Green Button data standards were quickly drawn up in conjunction with America’s NIST – this is vital to ensure that Green Button data is cross comparable across utilities – and more importantly, that energy management applications written for Green Button data works across all utilities. This immediately creates a significant userbase for Green Button energy apps.

Then California?s three largest utilities ? Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison worked to create a ?Green Button? that allows customers to download their detailed energy usage with one click. Others utilities quickly followed suit and now at time of writing, 25 utility providers are supporting Green Button, including some of the nation’s biggest, like American Electric Power, CentrePoint Energy, and PacifiCorp. This brings the number of households and businesses capable of downloading their energy use information via Green Button in the US to 30 million [PDF] as of May 2012.

Technology companies also joined the efforts, and the list of those involved is long, including most of the usual suspects (Honeywell, Itron, Oracle, Schneider-Electric, Siemens, SilverSpring Networks, and Tendril) with the surprising exceptions of SAP and Logica.

Tendril are a supplier to utilities and they have now made it possible for any of their utility customers to export Green Button formatted files. Nothing too surprising about that, I hear you say. True enough, but where it starts to get really interesting is that Tendril have created GreenButtonConnect.com, a Green Button ecosystem. On this site, consumers can upload their Green Button information to any one of a number of apps hosted there to analyse their energy consumption. Even better though, any developer can use the Tendril Connect platform to develop energy apps, get access to the energy internet and have Tendril help co-market the app!

Tendril have been one of the first to realise that the old RedMonk saw Developers are the new Kingmakers applies just as much to the energy space, as it does to enterprise IT.

To this end, Tendril have also been sponsoring Hackathons themed around energy, like the recent Cleanweb Hackathon in Boulder, Colorado and January’s Cleanweb Hackathon in New York.

In a wide-ranging discussion with Tendril’s VP of Policy, Cameron Brooks, yesterday he opined that while the Green Button files are as yet, not nearly real-time, they will go more and more that direction before long. This will go a long way to facilitating the kinds of value add energy services I posted about recently here.

Photo Credit http://www.samcatchesides.com/

SAP’s Sustainability announcements at Sapphire Now

SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe at Sapphire Now 2012

SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe at Sapphire Now 2012

Technology innovation plays a major part in creating a sustainable world tomorrow

So said SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe at this year’s SAP Sapphire Now conference in Orlando. He then went on to predict three major trends in computing for the coming years – according to Jim, in the next five years everything will move to Cloud, everything will be in main memory and everything will be mobile.

This wasn’t just some off-the-cuff remark – these three developments are core to SAP’s product roadmap – even in the Sustainability space.

In the mobile space for example, at Sapphire Now SAP announced a new version of a mobile app for incident management. With this app, workers can now log issues from their mobile device with a photo or video, as well as an audio recording, and send it directly to an incident or safety manager for corrective action. This crowd-sourcing of safety information also has built-in tracking of the reported incident which is hugely empowering for workers who may previously have felt their voice wasn’t heard. And for the companies deploying this solution it leads to a safer work environment and a happier workforce.

This puts me in mind of an initiative IBM rolled out with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) where they enabled students, teachers and staff to report issues like water leaks, broken aircon/heating, exposed cables and so on, by sending text messages and photos through their mobile phones. More please.

Also in the mobile sustainability space, SAP have their Electronic Medical Record app [SilverLight warning] – an app which gives doctors instant access to a patient’s electronic medical records.

In the Cloud space, SAP have made two major recent acquisitions – Successfactors and more recently Ariba at a cost of roughly $7.7bn. This is a clear indicator that while SAP maybe late to the party, it is serious about catching up.

And in the Sustainability space? Well SAP’s carbon management software, Carbon Impact OnDemand is already Cloud delivered. At SapphireNow SAP announced that they are going to rollout an on-demand service for product safety that the company is calling the SAP Product Stewardship and Safety Network. This will be a network where safety professionals can share safety information and best practices.

The irony of sustainability-related software being delivered via the Cloud, a technology which is not Green at all, is not lost on me. It does appear to be lost on SAP however – more on which in a follow-up post.

And finally in-memory computing – what is it? Well, you know how information held in RAM is much faster to access than information on disk, right? So HANA, SAP’s new in-memory database, is where the database is held in RAM for much faster data access. Also, in-memory databases can hold enormous quantities of data, and query them in milliseconds. This is a huge step forward in database technologies and according to SAP it will vastly simplify database maintenance as well because there should no longer be a need for large data warehouses.

Where do the HANA and Sustainability stories intersect? There are several examples – the first is in the area of Smart Grids and Smart meters. The volumes of information utility companies will be expected to handle after installing smart meters are orders of magnitude greater than anything they are used to. Realtime analysis of this firehose of information will allow for much better demand-side management, matching the demand curve to the supply curve, stabilising the grid and allowing for greater penetration of variable generators like wind and solar. Also, this availability of highly granular energy consumption data will facilitate the development of all kinds of new energy products and services that would have previously been impossible to offer. This is sorely needed by utilities who are in the uncomfortable position of currently (no pun) having to try to convince customers to buy less of their product.

Other use interesting cases are discussed in a great post on How Big Data Will Help Achieve Sustainability Goals by SAP’s Scott Bolick. And when you finish checking that out, head on over to Jennifer Lankheim’s post on SAP Situational Awareness for Public Sector where she discusses this new SAP Rapid Deployment Solution to help public safety and security organizations better anticipate, assess, and act on emergency situations.

We are only scratching the surface of what the implications of Big Data, Cloud, Mobility and in-memory computing are for sustainability. Expect to see far more announcements in this space in the near future.

Disclosure – SAP is a GreenMonk client and SAP paid my travel and expenses to attend Sapphire Now.

Photo Credit Tom Raftery

Tendril courting developers for its cloud-delivered energy app platform

Green Carrot energy usage app

Last August Tendril, a US-based energy platform company, announced that they were opening their API’s and launching an energy application developer program. The idea is to allow developers to build on Tendril’s cloud platform and to deploy the developed applications on Tendril’s Tendril Connect cloud platform.

For developers this is an opportunity to develop applications addressing the energy challenge and have them deployed in a ready-made marketplace of up-to 70 million addressable households. Similar to the Apple App store, Tendril offers co-marketing opportunities for developed applications.

Tendril provides developers with, not just the API’s, but also comprehensive documentation with a “Try it Now” capability as well as a discussion forum (so far lightly used) to have questions answered.

Tendril has also been promoting this initiative to developers by participating in Hackathons in San Francisco and more recently in New York. In conjunction with the New York Hackathon, Tendril ran a contest to see who could come up with the best apps using their API’s. The winner, eMotivator, won $3,000, while 2nd placed Green Carrot (screenshot above) won $2,000 from Tendril and another $1,000 from the Hackathon organisers for ?best user experience?.

And I note that Tendril are listed as one of the Participating Organisations in the London Green Hackathon being organised by AMEE this coming weekend.

Of course, if Tendril really want to talk to developers, they should also be attending our RedMonk Monki Gras conference in London next week (Feb 1-2)! I’m not sure what the collective noun for developers is (I asked on Twitter and received the following suggestions – batch? class? scrum? repository?), but whatever it is, there’ll be a shedload of them there!

One of the interesting things about the Tendril open API initiative is that it should stimulate lots of creativity in the Smart Grid space. So far, as Tendril CTO Kent Dickson noted in a call with me the other day, no-one knows what the Smart Grid killer app will be, but crowdsourcing the ideas is far more likely to lead to compelling results.

Logica and EdP’s smart grid trial in Évora

Energy management devices

Logica brought me to the pretty Portuguese town of Évora recently to check out the InovGrid project which they have been participating in, along with EdP and other partner companies.

InovGrid is an ambitious project to roll out smart grid technologies to six million customers across Portugal. Évora’s InovCity is the first stage of the project. There are 35,000 people living in Évora, almost all of whom have been issued with smart meters by now.

The smart meters are connected in realtime to in-home displays (like the one pictured above) which takes energy consumption readings every two seconds and plots it on the screen. It can display the usage data as kWh, CO2 or more tangibly, the € cost. If the home or business has an internet connection, this information can be viewed remotely on a computer or mobile device (as seen on the laptop on the right in the image above). Interestingly, there is two-way communication going on here, so if smart plugs are installed in the house, they can be controlled (on/off) from the in-home display, or remotely.

The information displayed on the in-home displays, and remotely, is not the same information which is sent to the utility for billing purposes. This may lead to some discrepancies in the € amount on the displays versus the amount on the bill at the end of the month. The smart meters send billing information to the utilities over Power Line Communications (with a GPRS backup). Even with the PLC connection, there is far too much data in 2 second reads, so a lower rate of reads is sent to the utility for billing purposes.

Interestingly, the in-home device shown above was installed in a coffee shop in Évora and it was possible to watch the fluctuations in the consumption graph in realtime as coffee was being made for customers. Also, the coffee shop realised €500 savings per annum in their energy bill when they examined the information from the device and realised they were not on the optimal tariff. It also demonstrated to them the savings to be had from turning off the coffee machine overnight, so the extra information from the device helped influence their behaviour.

EV Parking spot

EV Parking spot

Other than the smart meters, we were shown the information display in the town hall, which shows the realtime energy consumption of the building. This information is also supposed to be available on the town hall’s website for citizens to see remotely, though I failed to find it there (doubtless due to my lack of Portuguese!).

Other nice features on display were dedicated parking places for electric vehicles (EV’s), complete with charging stations as well as LED streetlights with motion sensors which dim the lights in the absence of people on the streets. The EV parking place was predictably empty due more to the general unavailability of EV’s than anything else. The LED streetlights though was interesting. Very few towns or cities have, as yet, embraced LED streetlights and yet 50% of a town’s energy spend can be on streetlights. LED lights can save 80-90% of the energy cost over traditional streetlights, they can report back their status (obviating the need to have staff checking for lighting failures) and they have a much longer lifetime, so they save on maintenance costs as well as energy.

It would be interesting to hear back from the InovCity people how much Évora is saving on lighting costs from the move to LED (even if only the energy savings) but even more interesting would be to try to see if the rollout of the smart meters and in-home displays has led to any sustained, per home, energy consumption reduction.

One last comment on this project – I can’t help but feel that the provision of in-home displays is an idea whose time has past. These days most people have access to a tablet, a smartphone or a computer where they can access this information. I suspect as the InovGrid project rolls out beyond the 35,000 inhabitants of Évora to rest of Portugal, the IHD’s will become at best, an added extra option, or quietly killed off.

Photo credits Tom Raftery

Implications of the data explosion for utilities

At the recent SAP for Utilities event in San Antonio, I caught up with Martin Mysyk, Senior Architect for TransAlta and we discussed the implications for utilities of the massive data explosion that is occurring in their industry right now.

Here is a transcription of our conversation:

Tom Raftery: Hi everyone! Welcome to GreenMonk TV. I?m at the SAP for Utilities event in San Antonio, Texas, and with me I have Martin Mysyk, who is the Enterprise Architect for TransAlta.

Martin, we?ve been talking about the amount of data utility companies you?re going to be dealing with and the mountain? I heard a talk earlier this year in Orlando, where one of the utility companies was talking about the change in meter reads from 75 million a year to 120 billion.

Now, there is also the other side away from smart meters and into just the devices on the grid itself and the amount of information they will be sending back to utility companies, what are they going to do with all this information and how are they going to handle it?

Martin Mysyk: Well, I think we do have to look at new ways of handling that amount of data, how we?re going to store it, how we?re going to back it up. And we?re monitoring so many more data points as we move from an analog world to a digital world. There?s an acceleration of the amount of data points where some of our assets may have had a couple of thousand data points we?re monitoring, taking in.

Some of our newer instrumentation generates 20,000 data points that we can monitor. So, that?s a large amount of — big influx of data that we have to — you want to keep it real time and that takes new techniques, new technology that we have to look at to be able to keep that on track and to be able to extract the information out that we need.

Tom Raftery: Okay, but 20,000 data points, is that too much? I mean, how can utility companies make any sense of that amount of data?

Martin Mysyk: That?s where you need another level of intelligence to layer on top of what you?re retrieving out of there, because you really — you can?t read that from a human perspective, you need software that looks for exceptions or things that are out of range to deal with those because whenever things are operating properly you don?t care about it. It?s just when there are exceptions or something?s going to impact your production capability that you want to know about that.

Tom Raftery: At the backend you?re going to need bigger servers, you?re going to need bigger failover facilities and all that?

Martin Mysyk: Yes, and the network ties it all together. So, wherever that is stored only high-speed networks have a lot of band with to carry the data, whether its onsite or everyone talks about being in the cloud. If you put it in the cloud, you are going to need lots of pipes to get it there.

Tom Raftery: This sounds like a lot of investment for utility companies, is it worth it?

Martin Mysyk: I think so, because we have to be aggressive on how we manage our data and our decision making capability needs to accelerate, because when we move into a more comparative global marketplace you have to have that decision making power and to do that you need the — to make information out of your data and that is only going to accelerate as time goes on.

Tom Raftery: Cool. Great. Martin, thanks a million.

Logica and SAP in exclusive joint bid for UK Smart Meter data provisioning

Smart meter

The UK has an interesting Smart Meter infrastructure model. Data from all the country’s Smart Meters will flow to a centralised data repository (called the DCC), from where, energy retailers will pull the data for billing purposes. The beauty of this system is that consumers dictate who has access to their data, and so switching energy providers, is not held up by data ownership issues.

The build-out of this system is still at very early stages with RFP’s expected towards the end of the year but SAP and Logica have come out of the blocks early with an announcement that they are going to put in a joint bid to become the data service provider for the DCC.

Logica and SAP are both heavily involved in the utilities sector in the UK, so it makes sense for them to bid for this – the interesting aspect is that they agreed to bid together and that their joint bid is exclusive.

The six main suppliers in the UK are all either involved in trials, or in the process of starting to trial smart meters. All six are using Logica’s head-end system for their trials, so if Logica and SAP win the bid, the transition to the DCC system should be relatively painless.

Talking to Tara McGeehan, Logica’s Head of Utilities UK on Monday, she said that the idea behind the bid was to move the debate away from technology and comms, onto the power of the data to affect things like micro-generation, energy efficiency and smart grids.

Having seen Centrica’s Smart Meter Analytics application, which runs on SAP’s HANA, earlier this year, the proposition that there is gold in them thar data, certainly rings true.

Photo credit Tom Raftery

If Utilities don’t step up their customer communications, they risk their considerable smart grid investments

Smart meter

Smart grids don’t come cheap.

They are typically projects costing in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars (or Euro’s, or pounds or whatever your currency of choice). Just think, the most fundamental piece of the smart grid, the smart meter, alone costs in the order of $100. When you factor in the costs of installation, etc., you are looking at over $200 per smart meter. Therefore if you have in the order of one million customers it’s going to cost you around $200m just for the smart meter rollout.

Given that they are so costly to implement, you’d think utility companies would do everything possible to protect these projects from failure – not so, according to the latest smart grid research from Oracle.

The report from Oracle surveyed 150 North American C-level utility executives about their vision and priorities for smart grids over the next ten years. The findings are both interesting and disturbing.

It is interesting but not too surprising for example, that when asked to select their top two smart grid priorities over the next 10 years, they chose improving service reliability (45%) and implementing smart metering (41%) at the top of the list.

What is worrying though is that while 71% of utilities say securing customer buy-in is key to successful smart grid roll-outs, only 43% say they are educating their customers on the value proposition of smart grids. This is hugely problematic because, as I have written about previously, customer push-back can go a long way to de-railing smart grid projects.

And those who are educating their customers, how are they doing it?

Well, from the report, to communicate with their customers 76% of utilities use postal communications, and 72% use their own website. Only 20% use social media (and who knows how well those 20% are using their social media channels).

Tellingly, the report also mentions that only 38% of utility customers take advantage of energy conservation programs when they are made available. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. the savings from these programs often require work on the part of the customer for no immediately visible benefit
  2. the savings are typically small (or put another way, energy is still too cheap) and
  3. Because of the extremely poor job utility companies have done on communications to-date, their customers don’t trust them, or their motivations. There is no quick fix for this. It will take time and a significant improvement in how utility companies converse with their customers before they start to be trusted

I have written lots of times over the years about the need for utilities to improve their communications.

Utilities have a lot of work to do rolling out their smart grids – but if they don’t step up their customer communications, they risk their considerable smart grid investments.

Photo credit Tom Raftery

The International SAP for Utilities event – focus on renewables and in-memory computing

Joschka Fischer

I attended the International SAP for Utilities event in Mannheim recently. This was the fourth SAP for Utilities event I have attended and it was by far the best. This was the first time I was attending the event as a speaker, not just an analyst and that may well have coloured my opinion of the event, but I don’t think so, to be honest. Why?

Well, there were two main take-aways for me from the event

  1. There was a much higher focus on renewables and
  2. There was a lot of discussion of in-memory computing

And neither of those had anything to do with the topic of my own talk (The New Power of the Customer’s Voice).

I knew I was in for an interesting conference when the opening keynote was from Joschka Fischer. Fischer used his keynote to make a blistering attack on the nuclear industry. Fischer, the former German vice-chancellor and Foreign Minister said “we must say goodbye to nuclear energy – it is not safe, and we don’t know the costs”. He went on to state that Germany “is going to phase out of nuclear energy”. Bear in mind that many of the utilities who were in the room would have significant nuclear plants in their generation fleet.

What will Germany use to replace its nuclear power? Renewables and energy efficiency will be key, he said. Germany will need super grids and a smart grid with gas as a backup technology (from diverse regions because, he said, Russia is not a reliable source).

In his opening keynote, Klaus Heimann, apart from talking up two new SAP Energy Management products, declared that “more than ever before we wish we could generate all of our electricity from renewables” and he went on to assert that “if we spent our resources learning how to capture and store natural power, we’d be in a very different place now”.

And this was the first two talks of the conference!

SAP Research director Orestis Terzidis

SAP Research director Orestis Terzidis

Scarcely a talk went by without some reference to renewables – understandable given that this was taking place in the immediate aftermath of the Fukashima nuclear disaster.

The most data-rich talk on renewables, perhaps not surprisingly, came from Orestis Terzidis, VP SAP Research EMEA. He referenced peer-reviewed research throughout his presentation to make his case that large-scale wind, water and solar systems can reliably supply all of the world’s energy needs at reasonable cost.

Interestingly, on the renewables front SAP has put its money where its mouth is. From SAP’s independently verified Sustainability Report you can see that SAP increased its purchase of renewable energy from 16% in 2009 to 48% in 2010.

Nice – obviously 100% would be better than the current 48% but renewables are not available for purchase in all geographies. Yet.

The other core topic heavily referenced in the event was in-memory computing (In-memory computing moves data off traditional storage and into RAM, providing a performance boost over reading data off disks).

Given that utility companies deploying smart grids will be moving from a maximum of one meter read per month to a situation where they will have more data coming from smart meters (more data fields) and coming in more often (one read every 15 minutes means around 2,880 reads per month), utilities are about to face in influx of data like they have never seen before.

In-memory computing is a natural fit for performing any kind of real-time analytics on this tidal-wave of data. Not surprising then that one of SAP’s first in-memory products is going to be a Smart Meter Analytics for Utilities solution.

The next SAP for Utilities event will be the US one this coming September in San Antonio. Given that this one was so good – the pressure is really on conference organisers The Eventful Group to try to exceed, or even just to match this conference.

Full Disclosure – SAP are a GreenMonk client and SAP paid for me to attend and speak at the SAP for Utilities event.

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Photo credit Tom Raftery

Smart Grids for Europe white paper presented by SAP to EU Energy Commissioner

12036 NM Smart Grids for Europe En

SAP recently presented a white paper entitled Smart Grids for Europe – Benefits, Challenges and Best Practices to EU commissioner G?nter Oettinger.

The paper makes the case that there are few (i.e. no) ICT transformations that are as promising as Smart Grids in meeting Europe’s urgent energy challenges. The paper also makes a compelling case for Europe to leverage its continental scale and develop a single market Smart Grid. In such a market, on cloudy days, excess electricity generated from wind and wave energy in Ireland and Spain, could be sold into the German market if solar farms, for example were under-producing! Wind is a notoriously variable supplier, but given a large enough grid, it becomes quite stable (the wind is always blowing somewhere!).

The paper identifies the challenges facing the European energy sector currently –

  • Growing demand and rising prices
  • Ageing infrastructure – the electric utility infrastructure in most of Europe is between 60 and 80 years old
  • Climate change and sustainability – 20% reduction in GHG by 2020
  • Energy efficiency – the EU has a 20% energy efficiency target
  • Energy market liberalisation – both generators and consumers now have the right to transact business across internal EU borders
  • Security of supply – reduction of imports and esp fossil fuels

The paper went on to outline the advantages to Europe of smart grids – benefits for both the consumer (residential as well as industrial) and for the retailers and generators. Further benefits come from helping Europe meet its GHG reduction targets by facilitating greater penetration of renewables onto the grid and from making Europe more competitive in world Smart Grid markets.

The current state of Smart Grid deployments in Europe is, however, at best, early stage. The existing efforts are largely national with little coordination among them.

The white paper recommends developing an EU legislative Framework for Smart Grids – complete with proposed milestones. It further recommends incentives for investments in Smart Grids, common European standards for Smart Grids, ensuring privacy, security and trust in Smart Grids and consumer awareness campaigns, amongst other suggestions.

This paper is well worth a read, whether you are EU-based or not, if you have any interest in our future energy roadmap.

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