Itron Showcases the Future of Smart Cities at #CES18

Providing a peek into the future, Itron showcased its vision of what it may be like to live in a city of the future from a consumer standpoint at the biggest consumer electronics show: CES. The show hosted thought leaders like Deloitte, Panasonic and the U.S. Department of Energy. More than 180,000 attendees came together to enjoy over 4,000 exhibitors demonstrating everything from companion robots to virtual reality.

As a supporting sponsor for the event, Itron hosted a dedicated smart cities marketplace and exhibition for the first time, demonstrating Itron’s global leadership in smart grid deployment. Helping utilities and cities manage resources more efficiently, Itron’s OpenWay® Riva solution provides a platform to support numerous devices and use cases.

Tim Wolf, director of marketing and communications, participated in a panel hosted by Deloitte called Energy Consumption & Distribution in Smart Cities. More than 300 people attended the panel, which was also livestreamed on CES’s website. Wolf also spoke about Itron’s solutions in a CES smart cities highlight video.

Itron was proud to demonstrate and support energy-saving, smart technologies that will enhance safety and convenience for citizens in connected cities. Built on the Itron® Riva network, these technologies demonstrate how a modern, urban infrastructure can leverage our technology to provide interoperability across key services provided.


Seven Reasons Grid Solution Providers Partner With Itron

Modernization of the power grid is picking up steam globally, making it the ideal time to be a solution provider in this incredibly exciting and innovative space.

The market for grid management solutions in 2017 was more than $21 billion in the U.S. alone. That includes advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), distribution automation (DA) and emerging distributed energy resource (DERs) use cases. The market will grow more robust during the next five years—by a CAGR of 23.715 percent—reaching more than $61 billion by 2022, according to the Northeast Group’s analysis.

In short, opportunity abounds for grid solution providers. But choosing the right path to market is a critical decision—as is choosing the right vendor to partner with as you go to market.

Below are the seven most compelling reasons to partner with Itron as you prepare your technology solutions for rapid adoption in this attractive market.

1. #1 Market Share

First, let’s talk U.S. market share. While there’s no obvious dominant IoT network provider to the U.S. utility industry, Itron has the largest single slice of the industrial IoT pie with 77 percent of the market for edge device communications among top utilities in the U.S. We can’t yet promise our third-party technology partners a majority of the market (no one can), but we can offer a big bite.

Nationwide, our radio frequency (RF) mesh networks support millions of devices in the field, and our customers include seven of the top 10 U.S. utilities, measured by number of installed AMI residential meters. Technology vendors looking for a big playing field are welcome to join our game.

2. Our Customer Base Wants More Applications

Itron’s utility customers have long-term visions for grid modernization. They’ve invested in building their own private, scalable networks, and now they aim to fully leverage their infrastructure to maximize returns. That means employing smarter, automated devices and systems for priorities like grid safety and reliability—Itron has deployed more than 90 million smart, connected devices globally, in some of the harshest environments imaginable. Our experience connecting devices and sensors makes us the ideal partner to enable smart city and industrial IoT solutions for things like electric cars, solar power, traffic monitoring and even just-in-time trash collection.

Our utility customers understand the financial and technical advantages of putting more devices on the networks they own. In fact, they direct their preferred vendors to utilize our network to allow integrated management of those devices. And all our technology partners share one distinct advantage: They don’t have to sell our customers on a solution AND a network. Our customers have already bought and deployed a scalable network, and they’re ready to put it to use for more valuable, business-model-redefining outcomes.

3. Our Customers Are Looking at Hybrid Networks

A recent Zpryme survey reported that only 6 percent of utilities feel “extremely ready” to support changes coming to the power grid with their current communications networks. Looking forward, 65 percent of U.S. utilities will use RF mesh communications for grid modernization.

These figures might seem surprising considering the ubiquitous coverage of today’s cellular networks. But while utilities may be willing to test a new grid technology via cellular communications, cellular in and of itself isn’t always a complete fit to enable systemwide connectivity as a long-term investment. For one thing, the pace at which cellular standards sunset—about eight years for both 3G and 4G—is too quick for the massive investments utilities must make in equipment and deployments. Plus, for security and reliability reasons, utilities are hesitant to completely tie themselves to public cellular networks that they may not fully own or control.

While cellular can be a complementary network option for some utility applications and use cases, a hybrid network that can intelligently fold in cellular and other technologies onto a proven mesh network platform is an approach that fits well with the majority of U.S. utility grid initiatives.  Within this strategy, our integrated technology partners are simply selling drop-in applications to an existing customer base on a proven network with continuous communications, redundancy and best-in-class security.

4. Our Customers Are Early Adopters

When it comes to adopting new technology, the long-standing joke about the utility industry is that it’s a race to be second. Now that the trial phase of grid networking is over in the U.S., the second-place finishers are lining up. But until recently, nearly all our customers were the brave, early adopters. That bodes well for our technology vendor partners for several reasons.

First, these leading utilities have the license and mindset to try new solutions. Second, they are further along the technology-adoption path. It’s a path that begins with a priority application that addresses a critical business need, such as AMI or DA. These investments then extend to support more advanced grid management applications, and then proliferate with emerging solutions that further cut costs and improve services for ratepayers.

Right now, competition is hot for grid management solutions. Providers have a big point of differentiation with our customer base. And regarding emerging solutions, well, the runway is open with our early adopters.

5. Put A Foot in the Right Door

There’s another trend we’ve noticed among our early-adopter utilities: They’re often testing technologies for a parent company with a portfolio of utilities. ComEd—a utility owned by Exelon—is a great example.

ComEd built a fiber optic backbone and extended connectivity to endpoint devices using an Itron RF mesh network. Following the success of this network with AMI and DA deployments, ComEd is moving on to test emerging applications, such as intelligent street lighting. Meanwhile, Exelon is rolling out the proven networking solution across several of the operating companies in its portfolio.

Vendors that prove themselves with bellwether utilities like ComEd have tremendous opportunities to scale.

6. We’re Building an Open-Standards Ecosystem

Itron is committed to building  utility networks with open standards to enable the development of a diverse and healthy ecosystem for smart grid innovation. Our recent acquisition of Silver Spring Networks, a leading open standards-based network provider for utilities, is a testament to our belief in open solutions. Our business strategy is not to lock customers into a limited suite of enterprise solutions. Rather, we want them to be able to choose technology vendors and solutions that best fit their needs—all within the integrated and secure environment of a private network.

We believe this kind of open, competitive platform is the key to driving innovation in the industry and ensuring our customers have the best options for pursuing grid modernization and creating a more resourceful world on their own terms.

7. We Make It Easy for Our Technology Partners

Itron’s partner programs make it simple for third-party vendors to seamlessly integrate devices and software applications into our networks. Because speed to market is so important, we offer streamlined support for the integration of mains-powered devices, battery-powered devices, and plug-and-play connectivity for network infrastructure gateways, bridges and IoT Edge Routers.

Plus, through our developer programs we provide a suite of tools and reference materials to help our technology partners ideate, iterate and prototype new grid management solutions.

Grid modernization is an enormous challenge, and we’re in it together with grid operators and technology providers. So far, we’ve grown in step with these partners, and as the pace of adoption increases we hope to enable more vendors to join us in our mission to create a more resourceful world.


Speed Dating at #CES2018

Innovation is always the hot word at CES, but smart cities and smart energy made their debut this year in a big way. Itron Idea Labs was there to contribute to the conversation and scout for start-ups and entrepreneurs with promising products and technologies to serve the future citizens of a smart city.

With a torrential downpour on day one of CES, followed by an unprecedented two-hour blackout in the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center on day two, it wasn’t easy to find time to leave our busy booth to see the rest of the show!

Fortunately, the lights stayed on at the Westgate and the Itron booth was busy with visitors from all dimensions, time zones and walks of life interested in our fresh perspective on smart cities.

Among the guided tours that Itron hosted throughout the week was a group from Minalogic, a technology incubator in the Auvernge-Rhone-Alpes region of France. Delighted to see a Grenoble-based start-up featured in the Itron booth, Minalogic invited me to a curated tour of the vast hall of Eureka Park the next day. Housed in the Sands Hotel, an excursion to and from the Westgate to Eureka Park takes no less than two hours during CES! With the luxury of a canny driver and walking at a quick pace, we had exactly one hour to visit a handful of the French start-ups that Minalogic believed most closely aligned with Itron’s smart city vision.

Our tour began with Lancey Energy Storage, a two-year-old start-up focused on demand response and building energy management. Their product, a stylish and portable electric heater coupled with a 10-year rechargeable battery targets residential and commercial applications and functions not only as a heater, but as an electricity storage device (kind of power wall).

The second start-up, PowerUp Technology, offers board design and consulting services, together with a cloud-based dashboard to monitor and regulate current charge in battery-operated IoT devices. The company claims to improve the battery life of IoT devices by two!

Next up, we were ushered across the hall to visit Arabella Technologies, a manufacturer of a handheld bio sensor that correctly identifies odors in a field environment.

While there were plenty of offerings that ranged from silly – like the dog food scooper that turns red when your dog has had enough – to the “so last year” VR headsets with haptic gloves, the shift in focus from gimmicky gadgets to innovation based on the real needs of society was evident in the products and technologies we visited at the packed Eureka Park.

My takeaways from this CES are that Itron is poised to enable an active and intelligent infrastructure to benefit citizens of the future, our smart city message is accessible and crisp, and start-ups from around the world are well underway in the development of products and services to complement Itron-enabled smart cities!


Going Zero to 60 at #CES2018

From the excitement in the air about rooms full of new tech to the chaos of navigating the pavilions with an expected new record attendance of approximately 200,000 people, it was another great day at CES. The atmosphere is exciting and at times mind numbing. There are 149,339 hotel rooms in this city, according to the Las Vegas Visitors Authority. Traveling 1.8 miles from my hotel to Itron’s booth takes about 30 minutes via taxi. 

I’ve really enjoyed representing Itron and showing the world what we have been up to in Itron Idea Labs. My favorite demo at CES this year has been our research into using blockchain technology to demonstrate transactive energy use cases. In this demo, we nailed up a private Ethereum blockchain implementation that showed how solar, battery storage and various other distributed generation resources could work in the future. This is possible by securely applying values to the input and output of energy in real time, creating more efficient and accurate transactions. We called our exchange currency the “Joule.”

Here are some more of the stand-out tech discoveries I have found this week:

  1. As a parent, I kind of did a double take when I saw the concept of a Disposable Smart Diaper Sensor. Apparently, you can get a text message when your child’s diaper needs to be changed!
  2. The fingerprint recognition pad lock seems like a really cool concept. I do wonder what happens if the battery dies!
  3. Mercedes Benz previewed a car that simply shocked me. Zero to 60 in 1.8 seconds, full electric drive train. It looked like a Lamborghini yet had fascinating features including “Full Glass” cockpit display, autonomous driving, top speed of 350km/h and is street legal.
  4. Of course, as a guitar enthusiast, I stopped by the Gibson Guitar area and drooled over my favorite guitars. The flying V happens to be one of my favorites. In the Gibson booth, I could grab and play anything I wanted.

The Robots of #CES2018

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Autonomous vehicles, drones, artificial intelligence, augmented/virtual reality, robotics and smart cities are among the hottest topics at CES 2018 in Las Vegas. Robots are everywhere. For starters, one of our Itron RIVA ecosystem partners, OMRON, centerpieced Forpheus — a ping pong-playing robot. The rise of the machines is unavoidable: Our future will include robots as companions and co-workers. Below (and in the slideshow above) are just a few that caught my eye on the show floor.

Called an empathetic robotic device, Honda unveiled the A18, which is a companion robot. The A18 has a face that can recognize and emulate emotions and respond to the emotions its companion shows. I’m unsure about the market size for a mobile, egg-shaped, anthropomorphic buddy, but speaking of robot buddies… A companion robot with considerably more utility is Blue Frog’s BUDDY, which won the CES 2018 Best of Innovation award. BUDDY is a personal assistant with smart home, security, elder care and edutainment capabilities. Abilix showed several programmable, multi-piece LEGO-like Coding Robot kits to enable STEM learning in children.


2018 Forecasting Workshop and Meeting Dates

The 2018 Itron Forecasting Workshops and Meetings have been scheduled. Registration for 101 is currently open at http://www.itron.com/forecastingworkshops. The others will be available soon.

Forecasting Workshops

  • Energy Forecasting 101 - Washington, DC; Feb. 28 - March 1
  • One-Day Modeling Workshops - Austin, Texas; April 24
    • Introduction to SAE
    • Advanced Forecast Topics
  • Fundamentals of Short-term Operational Forecasting - San Diego; Sept. 18-19
  • Fundamentals of Modeling Energy and Demand Forecasting - Chicago; Oct. 31 – Nov. 2

Forecasting Meetings

  • Energy Forecasting Meeting and Training - Austin, Texas; April 24-27, 2018
    • One-Day Modeling Workshop - Introduction to SAE - April 24, 2018
    • One-Day Modeling Workshop - Advanced Forecast Topics - April 24, 2018
    • 16th Annual Energy Forecasting Meeting (EFG) - April 25-27, 2018
  • 12th Annual ISO/RTO Forecasting Summit - San Diego; May 15-17, 2018
  • European Forecasting User Meeting - TBD
  • Itron Utility Week - Scottsdale, Arizona; Sept. 30 - Oct. 2, 2018

Free Brown Bag Forecasting Seminars

  • Using Neural Networks to Build Robust Hourly Models - Feb. 20
  • Budget Forecasting – A Practitioner’s Handbook - May 22
  • 2018 Forecast Accuracy Bench-marking Survey and Energy Trends - Sept. 11
  • Short-term Load Forecasting – A Practitioner’s Handbook - Dec. 4

Consumer, Commercial Needs Met at #CES2018

The Consumer Electronics Show 2018 is my re-introduction to the electronic industry’s show of all shows – the last time I was here was about 15 years ago! The reason I didn’t attended CES during that time is because I haven’t been working in the consumer electronics industry. Now I know that not attending was probably a mistake on my part. This is clearly a show much broader than consumer electronics, and in many cases, there are variants of consumer electronics and commercial electronics. I found the profusion of ‘smart’ and ‘connected’ devices truly amazing as well as the fledgling industries they are creating.

There are several companies demonstrating smart lighting solutions pitching a reduction in operational and maintenance costs while improving safety. Similarly, there are multiple indoor and outdoor environmental sensor solutions.

I also saw smart yard solutions and smart agriculture solutions to monitor soil conditions and control water delivery. The example was repeated with weather stations, environmental sensors, EV charging stations and access controls. There were products that were clearly two sides of the same coin – one side consumer and the other commercial.

There were examples of commercial building and multi-family access controls like door locks, fingerprint readers, face recognition and more products for the home/consumer. There was even a smart pet entry door, which only allows your pet (wearing an RFID TAG) to open the pet door. It communicates this to an app that can be used to monitor the event or lock the door preventing the pet from leaving or entering. What a great product! I need one to keep the neighborhood cats and raccoons out of my house.

So where am I going with this rambling? Simply stated, I believe there is great opportunity here for both the consumer and commercial spaces. The wireless communication used for these devices is all over the board – Proprietary, IEEE 802.15.4, LoRa, ZWave, Bluetooth, IP500 (6LowPAN), Thread, LTE, NB-IoT, etc.  Additionally, the applications are everything from stand alone to cloud-based on Azure, AWS, Google, etc.

When I asked the companies making these devices why they chose a particular wireless technology, and if they thought that it was where their value-add was, the answer I received was, “We did what we had to do at the time” or “It was a means to an end.”  In short, nearly all were open to using a different communication technology that solved their needs as it would allow them to focus on their value-add in devices and software/analytics.

There are many communications problems in the commercial space, and perhaps some in the consumer space, that can be addressed with a Neighborhood Area Network and Itron® Riva technology.


Forecasting New Technologies – When Nothing Else Works

In a recent project, we were asked to help settle a question. Which forecast is reasonable: One forecasting average annual system demand growth of 0.4 percent or one forecasting system peak demand growth at 1.3 percent? Just for some context, our recent utility survey showed that on average utilities expect 0.5 percent long-term system load growth. As it turned out, if you exclude data center loads you get something close to the low forecast and if you explicitly account for data center load growth you get something close to the 1.3 percent forecasted growth.

At a U.S. level, data center load growth has largely been mitigated by efficiency improvements. In this service area, data centers matter. Data centers are highly concentrated, and by far the largest data center concentration is in Northern Virginia (NOVA); data center load growth there has been insane. The first figure shows data center load growth.

Data center loads went from roughly 10 percent of commercial sales in 2011 to 25 percent of commercial sales in 2016. The question is how to forecast this kind of sales growth. Using regression modeling, we tried relating data center sales growth to economic growth, cloud-based spending, measure of cost of computing and modeling data center loads as part of total commercial sales with interacting trend variables. Nothing worked.

We then tried a second approach that entailed treating the data center phenomena as a new technology. Pretty much all new technologies tend to follow an S-shaped adoption path as illustrated.

NOVA data center load growth is also following this path with load increasing at an accelerating rate. Like all new things, it can’t grow like this forever. One approach of explaining the adoption path is with a Bass Diffusion Model (Bass Model). The Bass Diffusion model generates an S-shaped curve using the equation shown here: 

The coefficients p and q best explained the historical data center load growth path. The estimated curve was regressed on actual monthly data center capacity and generated the forecast shown next.

The model implies continued strong growth in data center loads out through 2022 where it begins to slow. The second part of the project was to validate the reasonableness of the forecast. We were able to do this through extensive market research on factors driving data center demand and discussions with one of the leading data center brokers in the region. Expected strong demand in cloud computing coupled with the unique regional infrastructure (NOVA has the highest density of fiber anywhere in the United States and three new cables with direct connections to Europe, Africa, and South America) supported the reasonableness of the data center demand forecast.

We foresee being able to use the same approach for forecasting electric vehicles, solar load adoption, and in the northeast, cold climate heat pump adoption.


An Unexpected Impact of the Solar Eclipse

On Aug. 21, 2017, people gathered across the continent to witness the first total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States since Feb. 26, 1979. The consensus among those who watched the sun become momentarily blotted out by the moon seems to be that it was a worthwhile experience. In fact, one of our Itron colleagues in the San Diego drove his motorbike up to Wyoming to see it firsthand. Upon his return to San Diego he told our group he was not disappointed.

More interesting than the allure of the moon blotting out the sun was later seeing how it affected utility loads. Below is a chart of high frequency data illustrating the impact of the eclipse on the solar panel that is in front of the Itron factory in Oconee. This illustrates how the eclipse lowered solar output (almost to zero) in totality areas. Following the eclipse, afternoon clouds had a similar but less complete impact.

Reflecting this impact, utilities in the path of the totality expected to see an increase in loads as rooftop solar output was reduced. That is, all else equal, as solar production dropped, the utility system would need to make up the difference. However, it was a clear, warm summer day with significant air conditioning loads in most areas, and as we will see, all else was not equal.

Using publicly available data provided by the North American ISOs/RTOs/TSOs, we can see that loads in fact declined as the path of totality traversed across the continent. Below is a series of charts displaying the hourly loads for each of the ISOs/RTOs/TSOs on Aug. 21 with the time highlighted at which the eclipse reached its fullest in each area.

In looking at the data, we see that the loads moderately drop during the eclipse hours. This is attributed to the drop in temperature, which accompanies an eclipse, an outcome that many eclipse viewers observed. Apparently, the temperature drop and the corresponding decline in air conditioning loads outweighed the loss of solar output. Obviously, location played a big role, as some places experienced a steeper drop in temperature than others. Below are two charts demonstrating the decline in temperatures as recorded in Greenville, South Carolina and Douglas, Wyoming, respectively.

Greenville is close to the location of the Itron plant where the measured solar output data was collected. This is hourly data from NOAA and shows a drop of about four degrees. The data for Douglas is five-minute data, and these high frequency data show an eleven degree drop – certainly enough to reduce air conditioning loads.

So, that is how it all worked out on a warm summer day. We might expect a very different result from an eclipse on a cold day in the middle of winter. In this case, the temperature drop would increase heating loads, which would amplify the effect of the drop in solar production and would probably increase utility loads significantly. The next total solar eclipse visible from North America will be on April 8, 2024. Maybe if it is still cool in some parts of the Midwest and New England on that day we can see if this conjecture holds. Stay tuned.


Load Research in an AMI World: Why? How? And Results.

Our final brown bag seminar of the year is entitled Load Research in an AMI World: Why? How? And Results. With market penetration of a range of new technologies, traditional demand econometric models will no longer be sufficient. End-use and technology hourly load profiles will play a bigger role in accurately capturing the impact of these technologies on system loads and peak demand. AMI systems hold a tremendous wealth of information on customer usage that can be mined for developing these profiles and used in supporting forecasting marketing, and developing energy efficiency programs. This presentation shows how AMI data can be mined without having to add-up millions of data points through load research based on large samples and shows results including developing total house load requirements for solar customers.

Join us on Tuesday, Dec. 5.  To register, for this Brown Bag and other forecasting events, go to http://www.itron.com/forecastingworkshops.

Participation is free, but prior registration is required. Each seminar lasts approximately one hour, allowing 45 minutes for the presentation and 15 minutes for questions. Seminars start at noon Pacific time.  If you can’t attend a seminar or missed one, don’t worry! Your registration ensures that a link to the recording will be sent to you automatically approximately one week after the seminar date.


There’s More Than One Way to Round a Number

When we were in school, we all learned the general rule for rounding – if a significant digit is followed by a number that is greater than or equal to 5, we round the number up, otherwise we round the number down. Not surprisingly, this is the behavior we see in Excel, as the ROUND function follows this general rule.

However, this method of rounding tends to create an upward bias. For this reason, another algorithm for rounding numbers has generally become the default when it comes to computer science and software development – section 4 of the IEEE Standard for Floating-Point Arithmetic (IEEE 754) (otherwise known as “rounding to the nearest” or “Bankers’ Rounding”). For example, the Math.Round method in Microsoft’s .NET Framework employs this algorithm.

 

Developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), this algorithm is designed to minimize rounding bias that results from consistently rounding a midpoint value in a single direction. The way it works is, numbers, which are equidistant from the two nearest integers, are rounded to the nearest even integer. This means that a number like 63.5 would get rounded to 64.0, while a number like 62.5 would get rounded to 62.0. Below is an example generated in VBA Editor.

Essentially, values with an even significant digit (e.g., 61.45) are rounded down, while those with odd significant digits (e.g., 61.55) are rounded up.  Other decimal fractions round as you would expect.  Only significant digits followed by a 5 get this “special” treatment.


The CEC Releases “Improving Short-term Load Forecasts by Incorporating Solar PV Generation” Interim Report

The California Energy Commission’s (CEC) Energy Research and Development Division supports energy research and development programs to spur innovation in energy efficiency, renewable energy and advanced clean generation, energy-related environmental protection, energy transmission, and distribution and transportation.

In 2012, the Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) was established by the California Public Utilities Commission to fund public investments in research to create and advance new energy solution, foster regional innovation and bring ideas from the lab to the marketplace. The CEC and the state’s three largest investor-owned utilities were selected to administer the EPIC funds and advance novel technologies, tools and strategies that provide benefits to their electric ratepayers.

The CEC recently released the interim report “Improving Short-Term Load Forecasts by Incorporating Solar PV Generation” for the grant number CEC-EPC-14-001 conducted by Itron Inc. The information from this project contributes to Energy Research and Development Division’s EPIC Program.

The interim report investigates three different methods to integrate behind-the-meter solar photovoltaic (PV) forecasts with an operational net load forecast. This work determined how to best integrate rapidly growing behind-the-meter PV into net load forecasts for the California Independent System Operator. See the full report here.


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