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Technology for Good – episode twenty four with GE CTO Jeremiah Stone

Welcome to episode twenty four of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had GE’s CTO for Digital Energy Jeremiah Stone as the guest on our show. We have recorded videos with Jeremiah previously, and they’ve always gone well, so we were reasonably confident this one would be good too, and it was. Given Jeremiah’s work in Digital Energy, not surprisingly we had several good conversations around Electricity 2.0 and smart grids as well as the regular Cloud, wearables and Internet of Things topics.

Here are the stories that we discussed in this week’s show:

Climate

Renewables

Cloud

Apps

Wearables

Comms

Internet of Things

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Ubiquitous computing, the Internet of Things, and the discovery of sound

Sounds of East Lansing photo

I had a really interesting, wide-ranging, conversation with SalesForce’s VP for Strategic Research, Peter Coffee the other day.

A lot of our conversation revolved around how recent changes in the Internet of Things space, in ubiquitous computing, and in Big Data and analytics area are enabling profound effects on how we interact with the world.

Peter had a superb analogy – that of sound travelling through air. When sound is generated, it is transmitted from the source to the surrounding air particles, which vibrate or collide and pass the sound energy along to our ears. Without any air particles to vibrate, we wouldn’t hear the sound (hence there is no sound in space).

As you enter our planet’s atmosphere from space you start to encounter molecules of air. The more molecules there are, the better they can interact and the more likely they are to transmit sound.

If you hadn’t experienced air before, you might not be aware of the existence of sound. It is unlikely you would even predict that there would be such a thing as sound.

In a similar way, in the late eighties, when very few people had mobile phones, it would have been nigh on impossible to predict the emergence of the mobile computing platforms we’re seeing now, and the advances they’ve brought to things like health, education and access to markets (and cat videos!).

And, we are just at the beginning of another period when massive change will be enabled. This time by pervasive connectivity. And not just the universal connectivity of people which mobile phones has enabled, but the connectivity of literally everything that is being created by low cost sensors and the Internet of Things.

We are already seeing massive data streams now coming from expensive pieces of equipment such as commercial jets, trains, and even wind turbines.

But with the drastic fall in the price of the technologies, devices such as cars, light bulbs, even toothbrushes that were never previously, are now being instrumented and connected to the Internet.

This proliferation of (typically cloud) connected devices will allow for massive shifts in our ability to generate, analyse, and act on, data sets that we just didn’t have before now.

When we look at the concept of the connected home, for example. Back in 2009 when we in GreenMonk were espousing the Electricity 2.0 vision, many of the technologies to make it happen, hadn’t even been invented. Now, however, not only are our devices at home increasingly becoming connected, but technology providers like Apple, Google, and Samsung are creating platforms to allow us better manage all our connected devices. The GreenMonk Electricity 2.0 vision is now a lot closer to becoming reality.

We are also starting to see the beginnings of what will be seismic upheavals in the areas of health, education, and transportation.

No-one knows for sure what the next few years will bring, but it is sure going to be an exciting ride as we metaphorically discover sound, again and again, and again.

Photo credit Matt Katzenberger

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GE’s PowerOn systems helping utilities to work smarter

GE's ADMS screen

We here at GreenMonk have been researching and writing about the smart grid space for over six years now. It has long been a sector which resisted significant change, but no more.

Several factors have come into play which has ensured that the smart grid we envisioned all those years ago, is now starting to come into being. Some of those factors involve necessary practical first steps such as the rollout of smart meters to homes, other factors would include the huge advances in mobile, big data and analytics technologies which have taken place in the last couple of years.

Then there’s the issue of budgets. More money is definitely starting to be freed up for smart grid investments with revenue from asset management and condition monitoring systems for the power grid projected to grow from $2.1 billion annually in 2014 to $6.9 billion by 2023.

I attended GE’s recent Digital Energy conference in Rotterdam as a speaker, and at this event GE showcased their new PowerOn product set. This is a combined outage, and distribution management system in a singular modular platform. Combining OMS and DMS systems seems to be a new direction for the industry. It remains to be seen if it will become the norm, but it should bring advantages in process efficiency and consequently in productivity.

The application uses newer modern screens (see screens above), with a more intuitive user interface, and a single system database. This combining of systems into a single platform should simplify operations for the system operators, leading to reduced outage times, and a more reliable grid for customers. Repair crews out in the field have access to the system as well, and can update the status of any repairs ongoing. This data can be fed directly into the IVR so customers who are still using telephones can get the latest updates.

In time, as utilities embrace next generation customer service, this information will be fed into customers social channels of choice as well. Then we’ll really start to see the grid get smarter.

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GE’s 2014 Digital Energy conference

MedPanTuesday-6

GE held their annual International Digital Energy Software Summit in Rotterdam this year. They asked me to speak on a panel titled “The Grid of Tomorrow… the challenge of integrating renewables and distributed generation on the grid“. One of the reasons they invited me to present is because of the many posts I have written, and talks I have given on what I have termed Electricity 2.0 over the years.

The Electricity 2.0 vision I have espoused is one where, to help balance the grid and enable greater penetration of renewables onto it, in-home appliances would listen to realtime energy price signals from the grid and adjust their behaviour accordingly. They would come on at times of low demand, and reduce their consumption at times of high demand.

Obviously not all loads in the home are movable. If you have your evening meal at 8pm every night, you are not going to change that just because there’s a higher load on the grid. However, many in-home loads are eminently movable. Washing/drying of clothes, or dishes, for example; heating water in an immersion too is generally movable, as can be aircon or cooling fridges/freezers.

When I first started talking about these possibilities in 2006, it seemed a fantastical, impossible notion. But now that we’re in 2014, the Internet of Things is well established, and I can control the lights in my home from anywhere in the world using my phone, that dream is now a lot closer to being realised.

One company, almost uniquely in a position to deliver on that vision is GE, given that they manufacture everything from wind turbines, to sub-stations, all the way down to the appliances in the home which need to respond to grid signals.

During the panel discussion we talked about many aspects of smart grids, the utilities rolling them out, and the regulations which they are bound by. We also went into some detail on the newer technologies that are emerging, particularly as they pertained to electric vehicles, vehicle to grid, and storage in general.

And finally the panel felt that utilities will need to be far more open to change than they traditionally have been. The markets are changing, customers are changing, and the technologies are changing. Utilities are extremely risk averse and therefore slow to change, however the risk for utilities now is if they don’t move with the times, they’ll be left behind.

This conclusion was confirmed by two data points this week:

  1. Wind energy is now cheaper than coal, according to European utility EDP, and
  2. this week when Barclays downgraded the entire electric sector of the U.S. high-grade corporate bond market.

From Barclays credit strategy team:

Electric utilities… are seen by many investors as a sturdy and defensive subset of the investment grade universe. Over the next few years, however, we believe that a confluence of declining cost trends in distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) power generation and residential-scale power storage is likely to disrupt the status quo. Based on our analysis, the cost of solar + storage for residential consumers of electricity is already competitive with the price of utility grid power in Hawaii. Of the other major markets, California could follow in 2017, New York and Arizona in 2018, and many other states soon after.

In the 100+ year history of the electric utility industry, there has never before been a truly cost-competitive substitute available for grid power. We believe that solar + storage could reconfigure the organization and regulation of the electric power business over the coming decade. We see near-term risks to credit from regulators and utilities falling behind the solar + storage adoption curve and long-term risks from a comprehensive re-imagining of the role utilities play in providing electric power.

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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

Follow @TomRaftery

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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/

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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

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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.

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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

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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.