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Smart cities need smart utilities

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Sustainable energy consumption and ‘green’ energy production at home is becoming a new lifestyle. Today’s hyperconnected consumer expects a reduced environmental footprint while still enjoying seamless services and ease of use, improving their quality of life through fully digitised processes that give them complete control over every aspect of their lives.

According to IDC, 30 billion ‘things’ will be connected by 2020. Everything from cars and appliances to lights and temperature control will be connected in an interoperable network that will give consumers unprecedented control and choice over their energy use. Energy itself is also becoming more sustainable: Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that by 2040, 72% of total new power generation capacity investment globally will go to renewable energy, with the falling cost of residential renewable energy disrupting the relationship between utility companies and their customers. This decentralisation is changing consumers into prosumers, who are able to generate energy and manage their usage in sustainable and convenient ways.

However, in Africa the picture looks distinctly different: here, the true empowerment of the energy utility lies with the interplay between consumers, utilities, connected devices and the software that links it all together in a cohesive whole.

Empowering the energy utility and its customers

Historically, the meter has been the centrepiece of the energy utility company’s relationship with its consumer. A contract is set up with the consumer to provide energy, and the meter is read to determine how much energy has been used. The utility company then bills the consumer according to their energy usage. Unless something – a billing query or outage, for example – compels the consumer to contact the utility via a call centre, the bill sent to the consumer is the only touchpoint the utility company would have with them.

However, with the advent of smart metering systems and the rise of powerful technology platforms such as SAP S/4HANA and tailored software solutions such as SAP Predictive Maintenance and Service that incorporate advanced analytics, big data, machine learning and AI, this interaction is evolving in exciting ways.

Energy utilities can now continuously collect and analyse data from smart meters, SCADA systems and sensors to determine and monitor the health of infrastructural assets. This is creating new opportunities to reimagine business processes and business models: while in the past each asset provider had its own system producing its own set of analytics, we are now able to collect all of the data from each asset into a single IoT platform in near-real time. Linking this to advanced predictive analytics capabilities enables utilities to proactively manage key assets within its value chain, driving down maintenance costs and optimising customer satisfaction through the uninterrupted supply of power.

Energy consumers are further empowered by gaining real-time visibility of consumption behaviour, enabling better energy management at a business or household level. In a smart city environment, this also enables benchmarking, which can give energy consumers insight into the energy usage of neighbours as well as at a neighbourhood, city, and potentially national level. When energy consumption levels exceed supply, utilities can better communicate with major consumers of energy and incentivise them to reduce consumption.

Disrupting 100 years of business-as-usual

Not much has changed for utility companies’ business models over the past century. However, there are three major disruptors currently challenging utility companies, namely:

  1. Decentralisation, which is changing where energy is created and how it is consumed. A famous example is Elon Musk’s Solar City, which features renewable solar roofing tiles that generate electricity at the local level.
  2. Deregulation, which is allowing a new breed of disruptive competitor to enter the market with services and devices aimed at consumers, such as the broad range of home energy monitoring and control devices and applications.
  3. Decarbonisation, which is driving the adoption of non-fossil fuel energy sources.

These three disruptors are enabling the rise of the off-grid consumer, typified by businesses and individuals who generate their own energy via renewable sources. Aside from the obvious loss of revenue, these consumers pose a further risk through their potential to sell surplus energy to their neighbours, further diverting the energy utilities’ revenue stream. In South Africa, for example, nearly all municipalities restrict consumers from selling their own generated access electricity back to the grid, and the infrastructure needed to enable such prosumers to supply excess power back into the grid is not yet in place.

However, utilities need to prioritise a journey of digital transformation that reimagines their business models and reengineers business processes. By embracing exponential technologies such as blockchain, machine learning, predictive analytics, Big Data, and IoT, and integrating it all into a cloud platform under the SAP Leonardo digital innovation system, energy utilities can fast-track their digital transformation to rapidly adopt new business models and capabilities.

With technology giants increasingly encroaching on the territory traditionally held by utility companies, and rapidly increasing customer expectations, the need to transform business models and processes has become urgent. It is critical that energy utilities prioritise their digital transformation, or they risk being left behind by an increasingly empowered and self-sufficient consumer market.

* Hannes Venter, Industry Advisor: Utilities at SAP Africa

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The future of the book… and of reading

Many fear that the days of the printed book are numbered. In truth, it is not so much the book that is evolving, but the very act of reading, argues ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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Let’s talk about a revolutionary technology. One that has already changed the course of civilisation. It is also a dangerous technology, one that is spreading previously hidden knowledge among people who may misuse and abuse the technology in ways we cannot imagine.

Every one reading this is a link in a chain of this dangerous and subversive technology.

I’m talking, of course, about the printed book.

To understand how the book has changed society, though, we must also understand how the book has changed reading. That, in turn, will help us understand the future of the book.

Because the future of the book is in fact the future of reading.

Let’s go back to a time some may remember as their carefree youth. The year 400. 

(Go back in history with the links below.)

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Wearables enter enterprise

Regardless of whether wearables lack the mobility or security capabilities to fully support the ways in which we now work – organisations remain keen and willing to unlock the potential such devices have, says RONALD RAVEL, Director B2B South Africa, Toshiba South Africa.

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The idea of integrating wearable technology into enterprise IT infrastructure is one which, while being mooted for several years now, has yet to take-off in earnest. The reasons behind previous false dawns vary. However, what is evident is that – regardless of whether wearables to date have lacked the mobility or security capabilities to fully support the ways in which we now work – organisations remain keen and willing to unlock the potential such devices have. According to ABI Research, global wearable device shipments will reach 154 million by 2021 – a significant jump from approximately 34 million in 2016.

This projected increase demonstrates a confidence amongst CIOs which perhaps betrays the lack of success in the market to date, but at the same time reflects a ripening of conditions which could make 2018 the year in which wearables finally take off in the enterprise. A maturing IoT market, advances in the development of Augmented Reality (AR), and the impending arrival of 5G – which is estimated to have a subscription base of half a billion by 2022 – are contributing factors which will drive the capabilities of wearable devices.

Perhaps the most significant catalyst behind wearables is the rise of Edge Computing. As the IoT market continues to thrive, so too must IT managers be able to securely and efficiently address the vast amounts of data generated by it. Edge Computing helps organisations to resolve this challenge, while at the same time enabling new methods of gathering, analysing and redistributing data and derived intelligence. Processing data at the edge reduces strain on the cloud so users can be more selective of the data they send to the network core. Such an approach also makes it easier for cyber-attacks to be identified at an early stage and restricted to a device at the edge. Data can then be scanned and encrypted before it is sent to the core.

As more and more wearable devices and applications are developed with business efficiency and enablement in mind, Edge Computing’s role will become increasingly valuable – helping organisations to achieve $2 trillion in extra benefits over the next five years, according to Equinix and IDC research.

Photo by Kathryn Bacher.

Where will wearables have an impact?

At the same time as these technological developments are aiding the rise of wearables, so too are CIOs across various sectors recognising how they can best use these devices to enhance mobile productivity within their organisation – another factor which is helping to solidify the market. In particular it is industries with a heavy reliance on frontline and field workers – such as logistics, manufacturing, warehousing and healthcare – which are adopting solutions like AR smart glasses. The use case for each is specific to the sector, or even the organisation itself, but this flexibility is often what makes such devices so appealing. While wearables for the more traditional office worker may offer a different but no more efficient way for workers to conduct every day tasks such as checking emails and answering phone calls, for frontline and field workers they are being tailored to meet their unique demands and enhance their ability to perform specific tasks.

Take for example boiler engineers conducting an annual service, who could potentially use AR smart glasses to overlay the schematics of the boiler to enable a hands-free view of service procedures – meaning that when a fault becomes a barrier to repair, the engineer is able to use collaboration software to call for assistance from a remote expert. Elsewhere, in the healthcare sector smart eyewear may support clinicians with hands-free identification of patient records, medical procedures and information on medicines and results.

Such examples demonstrate the immediate and diverse potential of wearables across different verticals. With enterprise IT infrastructure now in the position to embrace such technologies, it is this ability to deliver bespoke functionality to mobile workers which will be the catalyst for continued uptake throughout 2018 and beyond.

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