Smart cities

Smart cities and smart homes - the utility opportunity

Smart technologies in cities and homes are opening the way for new product and service opportunities in the energy sector.
Published: Wed 09 Jan 2019

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) currently under way (from 8-11 January) in Las Vegas isn’t normally a draw for the energy sector. Nevertheless, the event provides some key insights into the latest technology trends and their applications.

Not surprisingly, among these are some already being implemented in the sector, such as augmented reality for troubleshooting, artificial intelligence for forecasting, and drones and robotics for monitoring and maintenance of powerlines and pipes.

Another is blockchain and cryptocurrencies. And another is 5G, noted by Engerati as a trend for 2019 – and even 6G and the quantum internet, with some believing that the first quantum networks, some already in prototype, could become available within the next ten years. Built on quantum theory, their basis is that the ‘states’ of particles such as light photons can be transferred from one location to another through the process of ‘quantum teleportation’, providing new levels of speed and security.

Smart city development

With this development of 5G and an internet of things (IoT), smart cities have emerged as an increasingly important component of CES over the past couple of years.

As Engerati has pointed out energy and water ultimately underpin the smart city concept, with energy supply and consumption having a significant impact on the development of a sustainable, clean and environmentally responsible city. As urban corridors become increasingly interconnected with diverse building types and business and residential populations, innovative ways are needed to conserve and distribute energy.

Building integrated photovoltaics are offering new ways of bringing distributed generation to high building density areas. Projects such as Nice Grid have demonstrated the need for increasingly local solutions in such environments. With the consumer an essential component of the smart city ecosystem, customer engagement is key.

Following its presence at CES 2018, Itron returns to the event with a novel solution from its Idea Labs. Utilising mixed reality on Microsoft’s Azure Digital Twin platform, the company has created a “virtual representation of the relationship between building materials, infrastructure and various sensor types in a downtown Los Angeles neighbourhood”, according to a statement. The idea is that the user can initiate actions such as virtually installing sensors, changing rooftop materials or altering traffic patterns and then visualise the impact.

“Neighbourhood improvements will manifest in the simulated environment, allowing users to make informed choices regarding technologies they may be considering implementing,” comments Bert Van Hoof, Group Programme Manager, Azure Digital Twins at Microsoft, on the solution.

Smart homes and cars

After a delayed start, smart homes are now taking off and should be another area of interest for the sector.

According to a recent study from ABI Research, shipments of smart home devices were expected to reach 252m units by the end of 2018, up more than 55% from 2017 and with more than 70m households worldwide now having one or more such devices. By 2023 the number is expected to reach 467m with more than 300m households having at least one smart home device.

Smart appliances also are growing with shipments reaching more than 15m in 2018, amounting to a more than doubling over the previous year.

“These devices and their continued adoption are a beachhead for smart home players to position themselves as key partners for new and existing home services and, in turn, draw new revenues from their smart home investment,” points out Jonathan Collins, Research Director at ABI Research.

Indicative of the importance of energy management as a core smart home service, 90 of the 150 vendors listed by ABI Research in the six main smart home service sectors are in this category (the others being in security, home entertainment and media management, home maintenance, health and personalisation).

This growth of smart homes coupled with the growth of connected electric and driverless vehicles opens a further opportunity in the form of the interconnection of homes and vehicles to create an integrated smart home platform. With energy management also a key component of EVs, new service opportunities will be opened up for providers.

But beware. Just as the auto manufacturers are muscling into the EV charging and energy storage markets, expect them also to be eyeing any other vehicle related markets, as indeed they already have started doing with voice assistants. While Amazon with Alexa and Google with its Assistant are making inroads into the vehicle market, Mercedes Benz and BMW have developed their own proprietary voice assistants – Mercedes with its MBUX which was premiered at CES 2018 and BMW with its IPA (Intelligent Personal Assistant) which is due to appear in vehicles in May of this year. With such foundations in place the potential is there to build them out.