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Battery revolution upon us

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Although the evolution of the lithium-ion battery has been slow in the past few years, there are some new opportunities and potential markets in the industry for companies to take advantage of, writes DR XIAOXI HE, Technology Analyst, IDTechEx.

Many interests have been raised within the battery business in 2015 through a number of activities: the launch of Tesla’s Powerwall with low prices supported by the capability of Gigafactory, Apple’s patent relating to charging and managing power in a device with solid-state batteries, LG Chem’s opening of a mega battery plant in Nanjing, Bosch’s purchase of polymer solid-state battery company Seeo, etc. Not to mention the tremendous number of investment, acquisitions, partnerships and joint ventures.

At the same time, new battery technologies are appearing continuously with descriptions like “doubled performance”, “charged in a few minutes”, “cost reduction of more than 70%”, making the public even more confused about the real breakthroughs. However, one can provide a clear perspective of emerging technologies, new opportunities and potential markets in the battery industry.

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Opportunities can be found from different dimensions

Since the first introduction by Sony in the 1990s, lithium-ion batteries have become one of the most familiar and common battery technologies in our life. The involving technologies are relatively mature and the facilities are in place. With the expansion of existing manufacturing plants by battery giants such as Samsung SDI, LG Chem and Panasonic, economy of scale will be further achieved. However, with so many advantages, the improvement of lithium-ion batteries is slow compared with other electronic components, both in terms of performance and cost reduction. The liquid electrolyte used in the traditional lithium-ion batteries may cause serious safety concerns. On the other hand, with the development of wearable devices, printed electronics, Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and electric vehicles, batteries with more features, more powerful performances and lower costs are required. Those factors have motivated players to find bigger opportunities.

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Therefore, the battery industry is explored based on a number of different dimensions. Interests have been aroused in:

      Thin-film batteries (based on thickness)

      Micro-batteries and large-area batteries (based on size)

      Flexible batteries (based on mechanical properties)

      Special-shape batteries (based on form factors)

      Printed batteries (based on manufacturing methods)

      Solid-state, lithium anode, silicon anode batteries (based on technologies)

      Energy storage system (ESS) and electric vehicle (EV) applications (based on applications)

All the areas listed above indicate new opportunities. Those areas may be influenced by each other and may have some overlap. For instance, batteries with better technologies may be used in ESS and EV applications, providing better safety and better performance. A thin-film battery is also flexible, and can be made by printing, or based on all solid-state components, or be very small. Market growth of these areas is affected by the costs. Except the last one (ESS and EV applications), the others are also limited significantly by technology maturity. The IDTechEx Research report “Flexible, Printed and Thin Film Batteries 2016-2026: Technologies, Markets, Players” focuses on the first 4 areas as well as solid-state batteries with these features.

Further cost reduction may not rely on technology improvement

Battery technology improvement is based on electrochemical restriction and it is difficult to have sudden significant breakthroughs. In addition, a practical battery is a combination of many considerations including, but not limited to, energy density, power density, lifetime, safety and cost. Many press releases may emphasis one or several improvements but avoid talking about the others. Most existing commercial batteries are already based on relatively mature, proven technologies, but some of them are not well-known. Examples include thin-film solid-state batteries and printed batteries. As the battery development is a long and difficult process, future battery cost reduction are mainly rely on economy of scale, little on technology improvement.

Regulations and policies play a significant role in large deployment

In May 2013 the German market incentive program for battery storage systems was introduced which changed the residential battery installation structure immediately, with 2,700 installations to enjoy the incentives in 2013, jumping to 13,100 by 2015. Also, China’s decision to remove subsidies for nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) batteries for electric buses also crucially influenced this industry. It indicated that for ESS or EV applications, self-sustainability has not been fully achieved and therefore policy changes can affect them greatly.

Batteries with new technologies will be tried in small gadgets first

Large devices or systems generally require high reliability and safety. Therefore, new battery technologies will tend not to be applied in them initially or in short-term period. Toyota, for example said in January of 2014 that it was working on solid-state battery technologies for cars, but the firm did not expect to have a product within a decade.

Apple also paid lots of attention in solid-state batteries, but it is focusing on portable electronics /wearables /MEMs applications. As early as 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office already published a patent application from Apple that revealed charging techniques for solid-state batteries. In early 2014, Apple bought all the patents from Infinite Power Solutions after it stopped trading, a company previous working on solid-state thin-film batteries. In November 2015, Apple published another patent related to thin-film solid-state batteries.

In solid-state lithium ion batteries, both the electrodes and the electrolyte are solid-state. Solid-state electrolyte normally behaves as the separator as well. It is safer, especially for those with inorganic solid electrolyte (all organic electrolytes are flammable, no matter whether solid or liquid). Solid-state electrolytes allow scaling due to the elimination of certain components (e.g. separator and casing). Therefore, they can potentially be made with a higher energy density. In addition, they are more resistant to changes in temperature and physical damages occurred during usage. Therefore they can handle more charge/discharge cycles before degradation, promising a longer life time. Due to the flexibility of the casing and without the limitation of liquid electrolyte, solid-state batteries can be made into different form factors, sizes and shapes.

However, the ionic conductivities of solid-state batteries at room temperatures are generally low. In addition, they usually have high internal resistance due to the unstable solid electrolyte interface (SEI). Most solid-state batteries suffer from low C-rate and may not be able work at room temperature. Examples include 3000 taxis in France with solid-state batteries working at elevated temperatures. Also, solid-state batteries are much more expensive. The current low C-rate, low power makes them suitable to be applied in small devices earlier.

Thinness, flexibility and printed possibility will be the most addressed features

As new battery technologies will be applied in small electronic gadgets first, new features beyond traditional capabilities such as thinness, flexibility and printed Possibility will be addressed. According to IDTechEx Research in the report “Flexible, Printed and Thin Film Batteries 2016-2026: Technologies, Markets, Players”, there are other technologies that can make thin, flexible and printed batteries besides solid-state batteries, such as printed carbon zinc batteries and thin lithium-ion pouch batteries.

The total market of thin, flexible and printed batteries will reach $471 million by 2026. Most of those batteries are for small or mediate power devices and focus on form factor, thickness, size and manufacturing aspects, but they share technologies that can be used for other applications. Similar to the development roadmap of traditional lithium-ion batteries from consumer electronics to EV and ESS, batteries with new technologies may target consumer electronics as the initial entry. Even bigger opportunities for new technologies will come after approval in these applications.

For traditional battery technologies, demand is further created in the EV and ESS sectors as the growth in consumer electronics is approaching a plateau. Cost reduction is the key.

Arts and Entertainment

VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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