Is My Smart Home Really Smart?

I am a smart home geek. I have all the “smarts”: voice assistant/speaker, security cameras, lighting, fans/air purifiers and a thermostat. My home is cool when I need it to be with reasonable energy efficiency settings and I can turn fans and lights on/off when I am not even home. I have four smartphone apps to manage all of these devices with some ability for my voice assistant/smart speaker to integrate, which I have not yet had time or energy (pun intended) to do. I pay a little extra per month to support bringing renewable energy to my community and dream of owning an electric car someday. I have all of this…but am I really that “smart”? My smart solutions seem disjointed and disconnected.

Some of Itron’s utility customers have started connecting with their consumers in the smart home by using voice assistants/smart speakers like Amazon Alexa and Google Home to allow them to receive energy usage information, manage and pay bills, enroll in various utility programs, and communicate other rebates and incentives. Are these devices poised to be the smart customer service representatives of the future? It certainly gives consumers a new way to get relevant information from their utility instantly without needing to log in to a website or app. The smart home device market is saturated with products for lighting, security, appliances and more. Vendors with “hub” capabilities have emerged with bundles of products that can work together seamlessly. Using voice assistants/smart speakers, consumers can even order energy saving equipment directly or through marketplace services. For any devices that can be controlled to conserve energy or water and save consumers money on their bill, you can see the appeal for utilities to have a solid footing in this space.

Even more interesting to utilities are the large energy producing and consuming devices in the smart home. Itron’s Distributed Energy Management group supports utilities with solutions to help them maintain power quality with renewables like wind and solar, coupled with EV chargers and batteries, to balance supply and demand and ensure the right distribution capacity. Add in the use of smart thermostats and load controllers like pool pumps to support demand response and energy efficiency programs, you start getting a sense of what a really “smart” home looks like. Orchestration of resources in the home will only become more critical. Now imagine all of the components in and around the home working together in concert—seamless interoperability, optimization and control is the name of the game. That’s why Itron communications and data management services are built on open standards, and we are constantly growing our ecosystem of technology and service provider partners.

Utilities with the right infrastructure and solutions can transform consumers’ lives in the digital age. Itron provides the backbone to the smart cities, communities and homes we live in. This is Itron’s intelligent vision, which seems way better than just being “smart.”

Itron Idea Labs is focused on bringing new, innovative businesses, products and services to Itron customers. For more information, click here.

The Front Door for Cleantech Innovation in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s La Kretz Innovation Campus is the front door for cleantech innovation in Los Angeles. The campus serves as the home for the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), which is building an inclusive green economy through unprecedented programs like the Transportation Electrification Partnership (TEP). The TEP is accelerating progress toward the transportation electrification and zero emissions goods movement in the greater LA region in advance of the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games. LACI’s priority areas include zero emissions transportation, 100% clean energy and smart, sustainable cities.

Itron Idea Labs is a proud sponsor of LACI and its mission. Recently, Paul Notti of Itron’s customer enablement team and Frank Monforte of Itron’s forecast team attended a meeting at LACI where the current list of startup companies championed by LACI were introduced to the California Energy Commission staff responsible for funding clean technology research. The 16 startup companies span a range for cleantech technologies from long duration energy storage, spray-on solar PV window coatings, building decarbonization strategies, and transportation electrification via a myriad of EV charging technologies. The information gathered directly impacts Itron’s go-to-market strategies for operational load forecasting and demand management. This is just another example of how Itron is helping lead the way to a more resourceful, greener economy.

Bringing Innovation to Life: Caltech’s FLOW Rocket Fund

Itron is proud to be a corporate sponsor of the FLOW Rocket Fund at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which is now accepting applications for 2019. The Rocket Fund provides financial and entrepreneurial support to help innovators bring their technology to life.

Startups engaged in cleantech and sustainability-related innovation are encouraged to apply. Entrepreneurial mentoring and financial support ranging from $25,000 to $75,000 is awarded annually to undergraduate and graduate university students as well as recent graduates to help them transform commercially promising ideas into viable prototypes. Innovations around energy efficiency, demand response, smart grid, energy storage, renewables and data analytics are some of the areas supported by the Rocket Fund.

The 2018 award recipients included Antora Energy (energy storage), Brimstone Energy (clean hydrogen), Fullmoon Sensors (gas sensing) and ETC Solar. Supporting incubators like the Rocket Fund gives Itron important visibility into university research and academic breakthroughs, insights into new growth opportunities, early identification of promising new applications, services and technologies, and exposure to new business models.

Innovative ideas come from many sources including employees, customers, vendors, partners and incubators such as Caltech’s FLOW Rocket Fund. The Rocket Fund is one resource that Itron utilizes to gain valuable insights that might benefit the company and identify new business opportunities outside our core business areas.

As an entrepreneur-in-residence at Itron Idea Labs, I serve as an advisor and Itron’s representative on the Rocket Fund’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). I am joined by many of Itron's California-based utility partners on the Rocket Fund TAC, including PG&E, San Diego Gas & Electric, SoCalGas, LACI (the Itron-supported Los Angeles Cleantech Accelerator), Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and Southern California Edison.

For more information on the Rocket Fund, click here.

Itron Idea Labs at the Cleantech Open Global Forum

I recently represented Itron Idea Labs at the Cleantech Open Global Forum held in Los Angeles at LACI, the Itron-sponsored Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. With a decade-long track record, the Cleantech Open is the world’s largest accelerator of early-stage clean and renewable technology companies.

At this year’s event, 15 semi-finalists were selected from the 100 cleantech startups that participated in year-long accelerator programs operated by CTOs at eight North America regional accelerators and their international affiliates. In the end, Radical Plastics bested the other finalists — Sanos Nutrition, Sepion Technologies, Social Solar, South 8 Technologies and YouSolar — to win the $50,000 grand prize. Addressing the global environmental plastics pollution crisis, Radical Plastics has developed an exciting technology for the manufacture of cost-effective, ecologically-friendly, soil biodegradable plastics.

A runner-up, Sepion Technologies, has developed a promising platform membrane technology for lithium ion batteries that overcomes the shortcomings of conventional ceramic membrane technologies (scalability, power density and cost) thus enabling cost-effective electric vehicles (EVs) with a 400-mile range as well as grid-scale battery storage. Targeting transportation, grid storage and aerospace applications, South 8 Technologies has created an innovative Liquefied Gas Electrolyte chemistry for electrochemical energy storage (EES) devices including lithium batteries and electrochemical capacitors. Such EES solutions will be critical for the efficient and reliable storage of energy generated from renewable resources such as solar and wind. ESS also holds the promise of delivering the performance, reliability and efficiency essential to drive the growth of the EV and portable electronics industries.

Based on the creativity, passion and commitment demonstrated by these Cleantech Open startups, the future of both the cleantech industry and the utilities sector seems bright—and Itron Idea Labs is excited to be part of the conversation!

Itron and Blockchain at CES 2019

Itron was among a number of companies highlighting blockchain technology and applications at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2019. A blockchain-based electric vehicle (EV) charging demo was one of several Itron Idea Labs projects highlighted at last week's massive show, held annually in Las Vegas. The dynamic Itron demo showcased how solar, EV charging and grid-sourced energy flows can be tracked and recorded in real time at the grid edge using a distributed ledger. Itron edge devices validated energy flows and communicated via a wide area network (WAN) to distributed ledger nodes, the cloud and mobile devices. The entire energy grid ecosystem — utilities, regulators, distributed renewable energy sources (DRSOs), industrial customers, consumers and other stakeholders — will benefit from the Itron platform by having access to timely, transparent, immutable and trusted data.

Bringing blockchain center stage, the winner of the CES 2019 Innovation Award in the smart cities category was ZOME Energy Network's ZOMEKit. A multi-dwelling unit (MDU) conversion solution, ZOMEKit, which includes integrated blockchain support, transforms older buildings into energy-efficient smart buildings. Of the 4,500 exhibitors at CES 2019, roughly three dozen companies — both startups and multinationals — presented blockchain solutions, including Devvio, Engie, Gluon Solutions, IBM, IoTex, NeuroChain, TransChain and Trillium.

In addition, during a CES panel discussion, the City of Las Vegas announced that it would “flirt” with blockchain-powered mobility, smart lighting and environmental solutions this year.

While a potential game-changer, blockchain is still in its infancy. Owing to stability, complexity, scalability, confidentiality, speed of execution, energy consumption, economic, and standards and regulatory questions, it will likely be three to five years before blockchain moves from its current “flirting” stage to courtship and beyond.

Drones, Robots and More – Oh My

My first visit to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) left my head spinning – figuratively and literally. To begin with, I was intrigued by the mass of humanity – from all corners of the globe – swarming from exhibit to exhibit. I was fascinated and enthralled by tiny drones buzzing around like bees, a squad of robots dancing to Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars and a mammoth paneled screen that brings ocean waves crashing over your head. But what really left me dazed – literally – was a turn in the flight simulator for the monstrous six-propellered Bell drone on display.

I had the opportunity to walk through the Central Exhibit Hall with another Itron colleague. We spotted a camera Itron deployed for “follow me lighting” in Copenhagen – perched atop the Intel smart traffic display. We gazed at a Snapdragon in the Qualcomm booth – a version of the one Itron uses for the IoT Edge Router. And then we wandered over to the giant Bell drone. Naturally, with some experience as a pilot, my colleague wanted to strap in and experience flying the machine. With no prior virtual reality exposure, I naively went along.

Six minutes and three simulations later, I had managed to spin in circles, fly through the Trump Tower and crash into the pavement on the landing strip – three times. I expect that my shouts and gasps were great entertainment for the long line of folks waiting to fly. Despite the shaky legs and head fog that stayed with me for hours afterward, I was sufficiently cognizant to observe, over and over, that many applications showcased on the floor reflected ideas and opportunities also being explored at Itron.

My visit to the exhibit hall was only five hours long, since I spent a lot of the week riding up and down the elevator and answering the door at the Itron suite where we were demonstrating mixed reality for the Industrial Internet of Things. Having folks in the elevator say “Oh, Itron is here” and having complete strangers knock on the suite door asking to view our Digital Twin exhibit served as validation that the technologies we’re exploring and the services we’re offering garner interest from folks all over the world.

Sensory Overload: CES 2019

As my first CES event, sensory overload might be a good way to describe my initial visit to the showroom floor. I suppose because I've spent my entire career developing products and solutions for the enterprise business, I've never really understood the consumer market. Everything at CES 2018 is somewhat familiar or a creative concept, but I don't feel like I have enough context or framework to quickly process what is cool and interesting at this type of show, and what is just noise.

After some time today though, I was able to take time and enjoy a number of exhibits; in particular, in the area of robotics and artificial intelligence. While there were only a few "AI" companies represented, it's clear that the entire robotics industry has been adapting some form of intelligence over time. Growing up in the Midwest, I particularly enjoyed seeing companies like John Deere representing the intelligence they are putting into the agricultural industry. Robots are taking on all sorts of jobs and intelligence in certain ways, from helping assist the disabled to going places humans can't safely go to being fun toys for kids of all ages.

I think the lines are blurring on what we call a "robot". For example, seeing Lyft and Uber giving rides to CES participants to the exhibition when the driver is not actually driving, but instead, recording ML training data tags for the performance of the automation system of the self-driving car. The amount of internal and external sensor data that is being processed and making decisions in real-time is very impressive. Commercial and industrial solutions that have a similar focus of not just recording sensor data, but focusing on accurate interpretation, analysis, and decisions will clearly have the leg up on the competition in years to come.

Stranger Things at CES 2019

It is never boring at CES, from a technologies and products point of view. This year, I thought I would pay attention to strange things rather than specific trends. A clarification first. By strange, I don’t mean bad, but something I would never think of. There were plenty of strange things in very successful products. Think for example about the first time Bell tried to sell their phone service, “Mrs. Jones, with this product you can talk to Mr. Smith across town” to which she replied, “Why would I want to talk to Mr. Smith?”

The first stop was Eureka Park at the Venetian, where 1,200 startups from all over the world exhibited their best ideas. A rocking bed, which moves left and right while you lay down, seemed to be appreciated by the gentleman who tried it. A voice-activated coffee machine that would brew a coffee when you said “Yo, make me a coffee!” A robot that carries your beer and snacks to the couch (I need that!). Monitors shaped like windows that change what you see “outside.” A cocktail maker that always makes you the perfect drink. A robot that claps because everyone likes clapping.

Moving to the Las Vegas Convention Center where big companies exhibit, I saw two people in the Qualcomm booth sitting in front of each other and typing on a phone without looking up, presumably playing a game. At the Panasonic booth, next to its competitors LG, Samsung and other TV manufacturers, not a single TV was displayed, but a variety of cool product concepts. Finally, a full-size Bell helicopter with six drone-like propellers that looked like a spaceship.

The question is: which of these products are going to be successful? I am sure everyone will have his or her opinion!

A Brighter Future for a Nepali Village

In November, representatives and volunteers from Itron had the great opportunity to travel to Nepal to help with the Mohari Project, a project chartered to create a microgrid using six 1kW turbines to provide power to the remote village of Moharigaun. Working alongside members of the community, RIDS-Nepal (Rural Integrated Development Services) and some friends, volunteers were able to use natural resources in the valley in conjunction with a Pico-hydro solution — which generally uses turbines smaller than 10kW, rotated by a running water source, to provide electrical energy in remote locations — to provide a microgrid of electricity to approximately 250 people in the village of Moharigaun. This project is helping to create a new economical way of life, a sustainable source for improved education, better health care and personal hygiene for all residents in the village.

The Mohari Project grew up as an Itron Idea Labs search project to discover a turnkey solution that could be easily replicated in other villages around the globe. Itron Idea Labs has played an enabling role, coordinating with Itron’s Corporate Social Responsibility team and aligning with our mission and vision to create a more resourceful world. Providing education, expertise and donating equipment, such as meters, wiring and other hardware, Itron Idea Labs and partner companies collaborated to pull all the necessary pieces of the Mohari Project together, including grants, hardware and additional funds.

The villagers of Moharigaun worked to make this a co-labor project instead of solely a donation as a testament of their appreciation for the gift from Itron. Each household spent roughly 100 days working on the project, digging trenches for the wiring that would form the network/backbone of the self-contained grid to provide power from the Pico-hydro solution. They also helped build the community center that houses the electronics for the system and provides a gathering place for this community to strengthen education and economic opportunities for the future. Operators were trained from Moharigaun and nearby villages to ensure self-sustaining maintenance and use of the system and the community center.

The people in the village are incredibly grateful and pulled together as a community to ensure the success of the project. With a profound sense of community, decisions are handled by large village meetings. Tasks, such as the need to fell a large tree that was leaning over the community center, had the entire village turning up to help and oversee.

Over Thanksgiving, the hard work culminated in a celebration when everything was wired and power was turned on for the village. You could feel the ecstatic buzz coming from all the houses and hear the children shouting that the lights were on. One family even offered the Itron team a chicken to eat as a gift of appreciation. Currently, the 42 powered homes are using 300W in lighting, with an expected increase now that power from the Pico-hydro solution is available.

One aspect of having power in the village is the potential for increased literacy. Nepal generally reports a literacy rate of 50 percent for men and 25 percent for women. With the Pico-hydro solution, members of the community will have light to work and study in the evenings at home or in the new community center. The community center, sponsored by Itron in partnership with RIDS-Nepal, houses an education hall, shower services for personal hygiene, a kitchen and dining hall for community events, and comfortable and clean housing for foreign researchers and tourists. With these resources, young men and women have opportunities for education that were not possible before.

I’ve been with Itron Idea Labs for a little over two years now, and it was encouraging to be on a project where I could put into practice all that I’ve learned working here and see firsthand the lasting impact our technology has. The trip was an eye-opener for me. I experience how people around the world live, and I learned how much there is to learn from coming together. In short, Nepal is a remarkable country filled with remarkable people. Thanks to the work of RIDS-Nepal, Itron and other partners, the future is bright – literally.

Itron Idea Labs Attends LA CoMotion Leadership Conference

As an entrepreneur-in-residence for Itron Idea Labs, I was excited to be able to represent our organization at the recent LA CoMotion Leadership Conference in Los Angeles, Nov.15 - 17 . This three-day global forum, co-hosted by LACI (the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, which is an Itron-sponsored organization), brought together more than 1,000 elected officials, smart city thought-leaders, transit operators, public utilities, and transportation innovators and stakeholders from both the public and private sectors — all committed to realizing a new urban mobility paradigm and fulfilling the Paris Agreement.

Keynotes, expert panel discussions, workshops, test drives, demos and vendor exhibitions covered a range of topics like autonomous vehicles, digital mobility, electrification of the transportation sector, electric vehicles (both commercial and private), first/last mile-focused micro-mobility products (e-bikes, e-scooters — and even e-roller blades), and a host of mobility-related public policy, equity and social issues.

The future of transportation — connected, autonomous, shared and electric — will transform urban mobility, reshape cities and improve the quality of life for everyone. E-mobility will have a huge impact on the future of the grid, the utilities-of-the-future paradigm, urban infrastructure (how will all these public and private e-vehicles get charged?) and the transition to renewable energy. Blockchain-based (distributed ledge technology) information flows will provide the standardized, trusted, efficient, interoperable and immutable platform for transactions among all stakeholders and users.

To learn more about the LA CoMotion Leadership Conference, click here.

Itron Idea Labs Attends First-Ever California Climate Cup, Supports Clean Energy

Itron Idea Labs continued its partnership with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) this week with two exciting events! On Monday, Sept. 10, Luke Scheidler, Itron senior production manager, and I attended the first ever California Climate Cup, a startup innovation competition seeking the next generation of technologies, business models and platforms that will help megacities—as well as states and regions—accelerate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality and enhance resiliency in the face of climate change. Over 100 companies submitted pitches for consideration, and 10 finalists presented on Monday (Aclima, Inc., Ampaire, Ecomedes, EnZinc Inc., Evee, EVmatch, Inc., LO3 Energy, Solstice Energy Solutions, Wheeli, EP Tender).

The 10 finalists were grouped into three categories: Mobility and Goods Movement, Energy/Transportation Nexus and Digital Solutions for Sustainable Cities. Judges included Luke Scheidler of Itron Idea Labs, Samantha Huang of BMW i Ventures, Sergej Mahnovski of Edison International, Kojo Ako-Asare of Emerson Elemental, Katie Fehrenbacher of GreenBiz, VERGE Transport and Ian Meikle of Innovate UK.

Winners of each category presented at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco on Sept. 13, where the winner of the $25,000 grand prize was announced. It was a great event and Itron is proud to support the innovation these companies are bringing to our industry. Congratulations to EVmatch, Wheeli and Solstice Energy Solutions.

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, I had the privilege of joining Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti and Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo at the Tom Bradley Building in Los Angeles City Hall to announce the launch of the C40 Climate Mayors Electric Vehicle Purchasing Collaborative and the ZeroEmissions Roadmap to help reduce GHGs ahead of 2028 Olympic Games. Itron Idea Labs is a founding member of the partnership to develop the roadmap, read the full press release here.

Joining the Conversation Around Clean Energy

As part of our efforts to stay abreast of innovations in the cleantech space, Itron Idea Labs is now a corporate sponsor of the Los Angeles Clean Technology Incubator (LACI), housed on the La Kretz campus of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. As corporate members of LACI, Itron Idea Labs participates in innovation conferences, accesses the network of start-ups incubated within LACI and its cleantech network, and has an opportunity to mentor entrepreneurs and pilot start-up technologies with our utility customers.

In April, as part of our membership, I participated in two very important LACI coordinated events in Los Angeles.

At the first event, the 17th Annual Municipal Green Building Conference and Expo, which took place at SoCalGas Energy Resource Center in Downey, I was privileged to introduce the morning keynote speaker, Seleta Reynolds, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. Ms. Reynolds gave an impassioned speech about the impact technology and innovation will have on public safety, transportation and clean air. As not only an innovation enthusiast, but a transplanted Angelena born in East Los Angeles, it was so inspiring to hear how innovations in electric vehicles, solar, building management, drones, portable play structures and municipal art are in consideration to transform neighborhoods, improve air quality and effect economic and social change. Gary Gero, chief sustainability officer for the County of Los Angeles, shared his views on creating energy efficiency programs for underserved communities, bringing renewable energy and distributed generation programs to downtown and South Central Los Angeles.

Day two of our LACI-hosted event was held at the Getty Center, where Senator Kevin De Leon of California opened the conference with a rousing speech on climate change, advocating for less reliance on fossil fuels and promoting an economically equitable approach to deploying clean energy. Senator De Leon was followed by David H. Wright, General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, who committed to the Senator’s vision of democratizing access to clean energy, referencing a program to offer discounts on used electric vehicles to customers and committing to cooperating with his peers at utilities across the three western states to share best practices.

Building on the theme of a West Coast alliance on clean energy was a panel featuring the Honorable Jay Inslee, governor of the State of Washington, the Honorable Kate Brown, governor of the State of Oregon and the Honorable Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles, all leaders of the West Coast Climate Change team, who shared their passionate commitment to reducing carbon and bringing clean energy to their constituents.

Itron Idea Labs has an active project focusing on eliminating bureaucracy in the carbon credit trading market. My takeaways from these two days of LACI-sponsored events indicate that Itron Idea Lab’s carbon credit trading project is a viable solution to a tractable problem that our utility customers and our legislators in the West Coast Climate Change team are intent to solve. We in Itron Idea Labs are thrilled to be part of this process.

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