Moving from smart grids and smart meters towards smart cities and smart communities
There certainly is a lot of interest in the M2M (machine-to-machine) and internet of things (IoT) market in 2016; but we are only seeing what is happening on the surface.
Most of the M2M and IoT activities are taking place unnoticed. For example, all new electronic devices are now IoT devices. Tens of millions of smart meters have already been deployed by the electricity industry, with literally hundreds of millions of them in the pipeline. Healthcare is another key industry. All new hospitals now operate large-scale M2M operations, tracking their equipment with real-time information. Most local governments have invested massively in mapping their assets and this is now being followed up by adding connectivity to these assets – whether it be streetlamps, drainage, sewerage or trees, all are in the process of becoming part of a smart city.
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The other critical element for the future of utilities infrastructure is to use the networks with all of the M2M devices connected to it in such a way that it collects the data from these devices, processes that data, and then delivers executable real-time analyses to the users of the M2M services. This development is also known as big data.
Despite the potential advantages of big data, there are still major concerns surrounding privacy. The big data that is floating around somewhere in clouds is becoming increasingly critical to business operations, but very few companies have a good understanding of where their data is at any given time. As well as this, the enormous amount of data that is now collected is placing a real strain on the tools that are used to analyse that data.
Furthermore, there is no doubt that we are in the midst of an energy revolution. Not only is the nature of energy changing from fossil-generated to renewable energy, a complete change is taking place in the distribution structure, with less focus on centralisation and more on distributed energy. Concerns about issues such as energy security, environmental sustainability, and economic competitiveness are triggering a shift in energy policy, technology and consumer focus. This, in turn, is making it necessary to move on from the traditional energy business models.
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By making the electricity grid ‘intelligent’ and adding telecoms to it, the power will eventually shift – away from the electricity companies and to the customers, who will be able to control their energy consumption through smart grids and smart meters with interactive sensors, M2M and IoT devices.
‘Smart’ means communication, and since many countries are addressing the need for broadband networks the smart thing to do would be to roll out fast broadband infrastructure in combination with smart grids and, wherever applicable, other smart infrastructure. In that way, energy efficiency measures can be implemented throughout society and throughout the economy (buildings, transport, cities) with a minimum of extra infrastructure, as a trans-sector approach is based on sharing the infrastructure.
Unfortunately, one of the major obstacles to smart grid uptake continues to be the lack of good government policies. With all the knowledge we now have, it would be criminal if this generation were to allow vested interests to prevent us from developing trans-sector policies and holistic initiatives to address energy and environmental concerns. We need to break down those silos and force cooperation between the sectors wherever possible.
There is also a shift away from the traditional centralised energy systems to more distributed models and in this respect we see real leadership coming from local councils and local communities. The smart city movement could well take over where federal and state policies are failing.