Tag: smart grids

New business models for utilities

Several months before joining SAP, I was asked if I would give a talk (and be on a related panel) at the European Utility Week conference in Barcelona this year on the topic of New Business Models for Utilities.

The event is the premier utilities event annually in Europe with 12,000 attendees, and 600 exhibitors. I was honoured to be asked, and of course accepted, without hesitation.

The talk wasn’t video’d but you can check out the slides I used above. In slides 3-29 I outline why utilities need to adopt new business models (revenues are falling due to factors like falling costs of generation, the rising popularity of renewables, climate change, etc.). In slides 33-40 I discuss some of the evolutionary business models open to utilities. While slides 41-60 outline some of the more revolutionary opportunities open to utilities – many being enabled by the Internet of Things, and utilities digital transformation.

With all the changes occurring, utilities need to disrupt, or they themselves will be disrupted.

More prestigious speaking engagements

I recently received an invitation to address the bi-annual meeting of the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies (CEPIS) in Athens.

CEPIS, if you are not familiar with it is

a non-profit organisation seeking to improve and promote a high standard among ICT professionals, in recognition of the impact that ICT has on employment, business and society. CEPIS currently represents 33 member societies in 32 countries across greater Europe. Through its members, who are the professional ICT bodies at national level, CEPIS represents 450,000 ICT professionals

Quite an honour to be asked to address them.

This got me to thinking of all the prestigious talks I’ve given in the last few months.

I addressed the European Commission’s European technology platform for Smart Grids on Energy Digitalisation last November.


I addressed the TeslaWorld event in Antwerp last year (see video above). This was a spectacular event with two Tesla Model S cars on either side of the stage, a phenomenal line-up of speakers, and I got to drive a Tesla on the way back to the airport! So that was pretty awesome, and I have to admit to seeing my Prius in a less favourable light when I arrived home 🙁

I gave the opening keynote at the SAP for Utilities event in Huntington Beach last September on the topic of The convergence of the Internet of Things and Energy, and I was bowled over by the positive feedback I received afterwards from the attendees.

And I was very honoured to be asked to be the keynote speaker at the EclipseCon event in Toulouse last year.

There were other events I spoke at last year as well (SAP TechEd and ThingMonk off the top of my head).

But with the CEPIS invite, and another I’m not allowed to reveal just yet, 2016 is definitely shaping up to be an even better year for speaking engagements!


IBM’s InterConnect 2015, the good and the not so good

IBM InterConnect 2015

IBM invited me to attend their Cloud and Mobile Conference InterConnect 2015 last week.

Because of what IBM has done globally to help people get access to safe water, to help with solar forecasting, and to help deliver better outcomes in healthcare, for example, I tend to have a very positive attitude towards IBM.

So I ventured to the conference with high hopes of what I was going to learn there. and for the most part I wasn’t disappointed. IBM had some very interesting announcements, more on which later.

However, there is one area where IBM has dropped the ball badly – their Cloud Services Division, Softlayer.

IBM have traditionally been a model corporate citizen when it comes to reporting and transparency. They publish annual Corporate Responsibility reports with environmental, energy and emissions data going all the way back to 2002.

However, as noted here previously, when it comes to cloud computing, IBM appear to be pursuing the Amazon model of radical opaqueness. They refuse to publish any data about the energy or emissions associated with their cloud computing platform. This is a retrograde step, and one they may come to regret.

Instead of blindly copying Amazon’s strategy of non-reporting, shouldn’t IBM be embracing the approach of their new best buddies Apple? Apple, fed up of being Greenpeace’d, and seemingly genuinely wanting to leave the world a better place, hired the former head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson to head up its environmental initiatives, and hasn’t looked back.

Apple’s reporting on its cloud infrastructure energy and emissions, on its supply chain [PDF], and on its products complete life cycle analysis, is second to none.

This was made more stark for me because while at InterConnect, I read IBM’s latest cloud announcement about their spending $1.2bn to develop 5 new SoftLayer data centres in the last four months. While I was reading that, I saw Apple’s announcement that they were spending €1.7bn to develop two fully renewably powered data centres in Europe, and I realised there was no mention whatsoever of renewables anywhere in the IBM announcement.

GreenQloud Dashboard

Even better than Apple though, are the Icelandic cloud computing company GreenQloud. GreenQloud host most of their infrastructure out of Iceland, (Iceland’s electricity is generated 100% by renewable sources – 70% hydro and 30% geothermal), and the remainder out of the Digital Fortress data center in Seattle, which runs on 95% renewable energy. Better again though, GreenQloud gives each customer a dashboard with the total energy that customer has consumed and the amount of CO2 they have saved.

This is the kind of cloud leadership you expect from a company with a long tradition of openness, and the big data and analytics chops that IBM has. Now this would be A New Way to Think for IBM.

But, it’s not all bad news, as I mentioned at the outset.

IBM Predictive Maintenance

As you’d expect, there was a lot of talk at InterConnect about the Internet of Things (IoT). Chris O’Connor, IBM’s general manager of IoT, in IBM’s new IoT division, was keen to emphasise that despite the wild hype surrounding IoT at the moment, there’s a lot of business value to be had there too. There was a lot of talk about IBM’s Predictive Maintenance and Quality solutions, for example, which are a natural outcome of IBM’s IoT initiatives. IBM has been doing IoT for years, it just hasn’t always called it that.

And when you combine IBM’s deep expertise in Energy and Utilities, with its knowledge of IoT, you have an opportunity to create truly Smart Grids, not to mention the opportunities around connected cities.

In fact, IoT plays right into the instrumented, interconnected and intelligent Smarter Planet mantra that IBM has been talking for some time now, so I’m excited to see where IBM go with this.

Fun times ahead.

(Disclosure – IBM paid my travel and accommodation for me to attend InterConnect.)

Power line communications now being used in more and more scenarios

Power Line Communications
I had a nice catch-up call with Mike Holt the other day – Mike is Semitech Semiconductor’s VP Sales and Marketing and we had previously talked last August.

Mike was bringing me up to speed on what has been going on with Semitech in the last five months. Semitech make semiconductor chips specially designed for power line communications (PLC). Power line communications is essentially the use of electrical cables to transmit data.

Power line communications is receiving a lot of interest these days because of the current buzz (bad pun, sorry) around Smart Grids. Every smart meter is, by definition, connected to an electricity distribution network – if this network can be used to send and receive information, it saves having to roll out a separate infrastructure for your smart grid communications.

During our call, Mike made me aware of a number of bits of Semitech news (they’ve expanded their sales team, they had new product announcements and they closed a new funding round) but by far the more interesting part of the chat, for me, was when Mike started to tell me of the new markets that are expressing an interest in PLC…

My “Green IT – driving efficiency, sustainability and enabling efficient working practices” presentation

Conference organising company iQuest contacted me last year to ask me to deliver a keynote presentation at their Green IT Summit.

The event took place in Dublin yesterday and my keynote talk entitled “Green IT – driving efficiency, sustainability and enabling efficient working practices” is above.

The organisers prudently decided that they didn’t want to take the risk of any of their international speakers not making it to the event because of the ashcloud. This would have left them with a hole in the schedule at the last minute so they contracted the services of OnlineMeetingRooms and three of the presenters were able to present to the audience in Dublin, over an online video connection, without having to travel!

The title I was asked to present on was quite broad and I had 30 minutes to try cover it all so I had to go at quite a clip but the feedback has been extremely positive so it seemed to work out very well.


The day that we see all devices which consume water having networked flow meters is still a ways off

Photo credit Hypergurl – Tanya Ann

I wrote a post a couple of days ago asking the question How long until all devices which consume water have networked flow meters? after talking to Oracle VP Industry Strategy, Guerry Waters about Oracle’s recently released “Testing the Water: Smart Metering for Water Utilities” study.

Having put the question out there, I’m now going to discuss some of the factors which will influence the answer!

The first thing to realise from the Oracle data is that 76% of homeowners in the US are concerned with the need to conserve water in their community and 71% believe that having access to detailed consumption data would encourage them to take steps to lower their water use. So barring and big PR disasters like the PG&E Smart electricity Meter fiasco in Bakersfield, it would seem that the vast majority of consumers are bought into the idea of having smart meters to help lower water consumption.

How about the utilities? It looks like if they do decide to rollout smart water meters, they’ll very much be pushing an open door.

Funnily enough this is where it starts to get a bit nuanced!

First off, 83% of utilities who have conducted a cost-benefit analysis (n=86) support the adoption of smart meter technology, so that’s a good start, right?

Well, yes, but what are the motivations of the utilities?

It turns out that they are far more interested in using smart meters to enable early leak detection than in supplying customers with tools to monitor/reduce their consumption!

Right away this is problematic, if the aims of the utilities and their customers are not aligned, then this will greatly complicate any rollouts. Also, if the utilities are not strongly focussed on providing consumers with tools to reduce their consumption, any such tools which are provided to homeowners would most likely be sub-optimal (an after-thought).

Then, when asked what they perceived as roadblocks, the water utilities cited the lack of cost recovery or measurable ROI as well as the up-front utility expenses required – in fact, 64% of utilities are not even currently considering a smart meter program!

So, until the water utilities are as enthusiastic to roll out smart meters as their counterparts in the electrical utilities are, then the day that we see all devices which consume water having networked flow meters is still a ways off.

Of course, in the case of the electric utilities, their enthusiasm is certainly not hurt by the amount of recovery act monies being pored into smart grids!