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Renewables heat up

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Renewables, smart homes, AI and IoT will have a massive impact on how energy companies need to address the market in 2018, predicts COLIN BEANEY, IFS’s Global Industry Director for Energy & Utilities.

Every year we’re seeing a virtuous circle speeding up around renewables; 2018 will be no exception. The more renewables are taken up, the smarter and more scalable the technology becomes, with lower construction, operating and maintenance costs. Crucially, the cheaper the energy produced becomes too.

In 2009, it cost just under US$ 300 to generate 1 MW of electricity using solar photovoltaic panels. In 2016, the cost was down to US$ 100. All around the world, renewables companies are now able to offer cheaper energy alternatives. In September 2016 in Nevada, state energy provider NV Energy lost almost 6 percent of its customer base overnight as 15 of the top casinos and hotels in Las Vegas switched over to smaller renewable energy providers. Why? “The sharp decline in the cost of renewable energy” and “being able to control what your supply looks like”, said MGM Resorts, one of the main companies moving account.

BMI’s 2017 Global Renewables Outlook predicts ‘the capacity of renewables will double between 2016 and 2026’. A 2017 Financial Times report, The Big Green Bang, how renewable energy became unstoppable, shows that renewables capacity globally rose by 9 percent in 2016, a 400 percent increase from 2000. Solar power increased by 30 percent worldwide in 2016, and for the second year in a row renewable energy made up more than half the world’s new power generation capacity.

Asian countries are spearheading the development. China accounted for more than 40 percent of capacity growth in global renewable energy in 2016, but other high-power Asian markets, like India, Malaysia, and the Philippines are also expanding in renewables. This boom will in turn affect players in other geographies that will not want to fall behind.

How will this impact energy providers? Most important will be the new opportunities to adapt your business model, join new joint ventures or create new charging models—all these will be essential. Take energy provider Octopus, which delivers renewable pay-as-you-go energy through its easy-to-use online portal to customers in the UK and France. Octopus is now the UK’s largest investor in solar farms, but focuses heavily on customer service, flexible payment models and transparent billing as key customer benefits—as well as renewable energy.

With smart homes, consumers will call the shots

Amazon Alexa, Google Home, the Sony LF-S50G, the Harman Kardon Allure – what has this new generation of smart home assistants got to do with Energy & Utilities? Potentially, a lot. According to analysts like RBC’s Mark Mahaney, Alexa could earn US$10 billion for Amazon by 2020. In addition, MarketsandMarkets predicts that the smart home market will be worth US$ 138 billion by 2023.

Smart meters constitute a big part of this, enabling customers to check and calculate their real-time energy consumption levels in the home to take appropriate steps to cut down energy costs. Thus, smart meters are expected to hold a major share of the smart home market by 2023.

With one single solution for switching between devices in the home, consuming and storing energy and controlling its costs, consumers will have an increasingly powerful role. Following this, they will be in a position to drive even more flexible service and billing systems.

One example of companies leveraging this demand for increased flexibility is HomeServe, a one-stop digital service company providing emergency and energy services to the home. Through its monthly digital subscription model, it supplies services to over 7.8 million homes in the UK and over 3 million homes in the US—including energy services, boilers and meters through third-party suppliers. HomeServe itself owns no energy assets, but with its strong customer service and simple payment models generating powerful loyalty and revenue, service providers like HomeServe could become energy providers—soon, as customer-centric energy provision booms.

The success of agile, customer-centric firms like HomeServe and Octopus is a wake-up call for energy providers. Customers increasingly hold the balance of power in a digital market. For Energy & Utilities companies, it is a reminder of how new vital, flexible, and agile billing and service, as well as operations, can pose either a competitive advantage or a threat— depending on how you are addressing the market.

The industry gets smarter as AI and IoT move ahead

As consumer demand dictates energy supply and billing, IoT, machine learning and AI capabilities will add another dimension to this, not just in the field at the edge of operations, but at the heart of products and in homes, too.

Gartner predicts that “by 2022, more than 80 percent of enterprise IoT projects will have an AI component, up from less than 10 percent today.” But what would a machine-to-machine, cloud-based energy system, discretely sited in consumers’ homes, look like? In 2016 in Hawaii, Microsoft collaborated on a renewable energy initiative using 499 IoT-connected home water heaters, all IoT-enabled and connected to Microsoft Azure Cloud, to create an autonomous discrete energy grid that stores overspill energy for future use. The 499 water heaters are called Grid-Interactive Electric Thermal Storage (GETS) devices. The machines monitor energy consumption and performance, and store hot water when there is a surfeit of renewable solar and wind energy. Each heater is able to store 52 – 120 gallons of piping hot water. Combined, the water heaters can hold 15 to 25 kilowatt-hours energy. Hawaii spends about US$ 6 billion every year importing oil, so being able to store excess renewably generated energy could have a major impact, helping Hawaii reach its goal of its state utilities generating 100 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2045. One of the most impressive aspects of the Hawaii story is its precision business case. For an island with a lot of renewable wind and solar energy, storage was a key priority and would deliver obvious customer benefits.

For energy providers, 2018 will be about finding the sweet spot, connecting consumers’ demands for increased flexibility and cost control to new services and charging models based on renewable energy sources and emerging technologies—those who succeed with this will be the winners.

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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