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IoT Blog

European Utility Week: The IoT is an Industry Recharge

by Olivier Amiot, Director of Marketing, Energy
Sometimes a conference can surprise you. For the past few years, my colleagues and I have found European Utility Week to be a relatively subdued affair. Yes, it’s the largest utility and energy show in Europe, and yes, we’ve had productive discussions there about the business of storing and supplying power and water, but the experience has been a bit lacking – we’ve come away thinking people didn’t really have the energy to talk about energy and water.

But not this year. EUW 2015, which took place in Vienna at the beginning of November, had a much more dynamic, more energetic “vibe”. There was a certain sense of excitement, conversations were more animated, and everyone seemed more engaged. We left Vienna feeling that the utility industry is fully recharged and ready to go. 

What’s behind the change? The Internet of Things (IoT). People in the utility sector are seeing the IoT’s potential for creating new business models, and that gives us all a different view of the industry’s future. What used to be a fairly routine conversation about how to evolve metering and deal with new regulatory requirements has become a dynamic discussion of IoT-related advances, including data analytics, real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance, faster response times, interactive customer portals, and more.

ESMIG’s Groundbreaking Gateway

Sierra Wireless is, of course, a leading proponent of the IoT as the foundation for development in utilities, and proof of this was in the booth for the European Smart Metering Industry Group (ESMIG). Sierra Wireless is a member of the ESMIG, an organization that acts as a voice for providers of smart-energy solutions, and helped develop the device-to-cloud solutions displayed in their booth.

The demos showed how utility companies can move away from the focus on relatively static solutions for smart meters, and transition to a richer, multi-vendor environment for advanced smart-grid applications.

Illustrated in the image below, the concept goes like this: a Sierra Wireless mangOH board equipped with an AirPrime WP smart module acts as a full energy-management gateway, interacting with ZigBee Smart Energy Profile (SEP) appliances in the home and with the house’s smart meter, to retrieve data and allow remote control. The mangOH board is also fitted with a Sierra Wireless SIM Card, to establish a bidirectional link to our IoT Acceleration Platform, which is in turn connected to the head-end system of the distribution service operator (DSO), and provides a unified and secured interface to smart-grid applications from different application providers.

The ESMIG/Sierra Wireless vision for smart grids

Everyone Benefits

Data that’s collected by the Sierra Wireless mangOH gateway can help utility companies in several ways. The aggregated information can be viewed in a dashboard that provides real-time operating data for each meter. Easy-to-read maps can highlight issues with connection or power, identify SIM states, and pinpoint outages. The dashboard can also be used to execute remote-control functions, issuing firmware updates for product software or revising the telecom stack to meet changing network requirements. Using an operator-agnostic SIM card, like the one provided by Sierra Wireless, means utilities can deploy in new areas, or modify configurations in existing areas, without having to swap out the SIM.

The real-time usage data collected by the mangOH gateway also helps utility companies deliver a better end-user experience. Customers can view data in a web portal, to see their current bill, view details on usage, graph consumption for a given period, or even set alarms if usage exceeds a certain amount.

To develop these kinds of interactive customer experiences, utility companies can use the interfaces and APIs provided with the Sierra Wireless mangOH board. The interfaces and APIs provide a foundation, giving companies a quick, easy way to develop and deploy value-added, differentiated features.

Expanding Infrastructure

While people in the ESMIG booth were talking about IoT gateways, people in other parts of the show were discussing cellular-connected smart meters. In particular, we were very pleased to announce that utility giant Itron has selected our modules for smart gas metering deployments in Europe. The AirPrime HL modules, which provide cellular connectivity with exceptionally low battery consumption, save energy while supporting the multi-year lifespans required for most meters. Itron’s first deployment will be in Italy, followed by other metering initiatives throughout Europe.

Reducing Complexity

The conversations about IoT gateways and cellular-equipped smart meters led to questions about deployment, connectivity, network management, cloud interactions, and managing data. Launching and managing an IoT deployment can seem like a complex challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right partner, utilities can transition to the IoT without having to become experts in the IoT itself.

For example, Sierra Wireless has developed an approach that significantly reduces the complexity of using the IoT. Our IoT Acceleration Platform is a turnkey cloud-connectivity solution that gives utility companies new ways to include the IoT in their operations, so they can become more flexible, more agile, and able to manage economies of scale with greater ease. Sierra Wireless offers an already established IoT infrastructure – complete with devices, cloud management, and connectivity services – ready for utility companies to tap into.

Moving Ahead: 5 Steps to the IoT

European Utility Week was, for many, a jumping-off point for the IoT. As a follow-on to the show, and to help utility companies move toward the IoT, we’ve developed a white paper that outlines the five essential steps to get you prepared. It’s titled “The Internet of Things Opens Utilities to New Business Models,” and you can download a copy here:

Download White Paper