With the prospect of 50 billion connected objects by the end of the decade, the Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly as connectivity grows. Right at the forefront of this growth is the energy sector, with the development of intelligence at the edge of the smart grid.
“The Internet of Things is about intelligence and connectivity in objects and getting data from those objects to provide new value to increase efficiencies and reduce costs,” explains Roberto Aiello, new business innovation, new models, Itron CTO Office, in an exclusive interview with Engerati. “The energy industry has had to solve IoT type problems and IoT technologies. Business models are already starting to be used.”
This evolution can be readily traced, with smart meters and IEDs and other sensors being deployed out on the grid and the development of analytics to analyze the data from these devices to address both customer and grid-side issues. But still in its early stages, the smart grid of today is still a forerunner to realizing the IoT.
From a technology perspective, the enablers of the IoT in Mr Aiello’s view are low cost sensors, the use of standards such as Internet Protocol and big data. Local sensors and standards enable low cost and interoperability and the data analysis enables the business value to be extracted for the customers.
Against this background in October 2014 Itron launched its Itron Riva “edge intelligence” platform to provide IoT connectivity to the grid.
Riva edge intelligence platform
“Our main innovation is ubiquitous networking as Itron Riva enables connectivity of all sorts of sensors and transfers data from these sensors in a standard way to the cloud or a data centre where it can be analyzed,” explains Mr Aiello.
Itron Riva builds on Cisco’s open standards IPv6 network, with both radio frequency (RF) and powerline carrier (PLC) modes to optimize the communications path.
“The networking features improve the coverage, the edge computing provides local analytics at the sensor level as well as better connectivity, and the use of standards provides the ability to connect in other technologies in the chain,” says Mr Aiello. “From the technology point of view we have introduced significant innovations that address specific problems. For example, the ability to compute at the edge provides value universally, such as reducing network traffic and more quickly diagnosing problems.”
IoT innovations coming
Illustrating the diversity of its application, publicly announced deployments of Itron Riva include AES Eletropaulo and Eletrobras in Brazil, Salzburg AG in Austria and Tonga Power Ltd on Tonga's main island of Tongatapu. Others are pending in Asia and Africa, illustrating applicability equally in developed and developing countries, and in the latter the potential to leapfrog to a ‘smart’ technology.
Mr Aiello, whose role includes investigating new business opportunities for the technology, suggests an IoT innovation that Itron Riva will create is improved business value as a result of the improved data collection and analysis.
For example, types of sensors might include electricity, gas or water meters, pressure, temperature or leak sensors, streetlights or solar panels. Bringing together datasets from the different sensors in a common area will enable correlations that were not previously possible because of the siloed data approach, such as correlating energy and water usage with the weather.
Energy to IoT provider
But while the initial applications of Itron Riva are being implemented in the utility sector, its applicability is potentially much wider, which could broaden the scope of Itron – and similar companies likewise – as an energy company. Building automation, agriculture, streetlighting and safety are just some areas under consideration.
“The technology is much more generic than before and we are no longer selling an electricity meter network, but a network with IoT sensors,” says Mr Aiello. “As the technology is new, we are still experimenting, but we are seeing a lot of IoT interest particularly in Asia and Australia.”
While Itron Riva and other IoT platforms are about improving the quality and pleasure of life, they also, like any other technology deployment, are ultimately business propositions that need to provide value, Mr Aiello points out.
To enable further development, Itron has launched the Itron Riva Developers Community to enable developers to create turnkey apps for the platform. “We are not just applying the technology but are making it available to other companies to use and you can expect to see more sharing and partnering and licensing than we have done in the past.”