Words to regulate the air-conditioning. A watch to measure blood pressure. A fridge that helps with the grocery shopping. This has all happened in only a few years. It’s a silent revolution that is transforming inanimate things into smart objects. This is the Internet of Things (IoT), the theme at the heart of the 12th #EnelFocusOn, which was held on 26 November at the Magurele High Tech Cluster in Bucharest, Romania.
This revolution is already in full flow to the extent that “in 10 years there will be no more talk of Internet of Things because everything will already be connected,” said the event’s keynote speaker Tom Raftery, Global VP, Futurist and Innovation Evangelist at SAP, the multinational leader in management software.
In his welcome address Roberto Deambrogio, Director of Communications at Enel, explained “IoT exists, there’s nothing futuristic about it,” as he guided the session which was broadcast in live streaming and which featured a select panel of digital entrepreneurs, bloggers, journalists and consultants from all over the world.
More than just domotics: IoT services in the energy sector
By 2008, there were already more connected objects than inhabitants on Earth. By 2020, there will be 50 billion smart objects, adding up to a business that will be worth an estimated 6 trillion dollars in 2025. And yet, Deambrogio added, “there is still a lack of knowledge: according to some research in the United States, 50% of people don’t know that many instruments in the house could, potentially, be connected to the Internet today.”
The home, and therefore domotics, is actually only one of many possible areas of application of the Internet of Things, although it is perhaps the most frequent example of the devices invading our lives, such as the vocal assistants provided by Google, Amazon and Apple.
Objects and instruments rendered smart by their ability to monitor and transmit information already exist in many fields. Raftery mentioned this in a talk that ranged from health to mobility, from Artificial Intelligence to robotics with a specific focus on connected energy, his main theme.
Raftery opened by saying that “the scenario in the energy sector has completely changed,” and cited Swanson’s law, which states that the cost of photovoltaic cells used in solar panels tends to drop 20% with each doubling in production capacity, while the price of fossil energy tends to rise. Furthermore, according to the IEA (International Energy Agency), by 2027 wind power will be the most important source of energy in Europe. There are two particularly significant, interdependent trends in action for energy IoT: the development of renewables, which will increase energy distribution to the point that the consumer will return an excess quantity to the grid, and of technology that will progressively reduce the costs of storage.
Demand response and the role of Enel
The shining examples cited by Raftery were numerous: from the Tesla virtual power plant in Australia, thanks to which 50,000 houses will be able to use solar energy from a shared grid, to the Vehicle-to-Grid technology for electric cars, which foresees a business amounting to 2 billion dollars in 2025. This technology has already been introduced by Enel in Denmark and is being tested in other European countries, such as Italy.
Already today, through the IoT, demand response services enable the modulation of energy consumption, providing improved network flexibility and stability. As Georgios Stassis, CEO and Country Manager of Enel Romania noted, those offered by Enel X, the Enel global business line which was set up a year ago and which opened offices in Bucharest a few days ago, offer a good example of this.
Given its digitalisation of the grid (which today serves 50 million customers worldwide), Enel can be considered an IoT pioneer, as Fabio Veronese, Head of Infrastructure & Networks Digital Hub at Enel, explained. “Enel faces two challenges: the first is the quality of service, in terms of resilience, risk prevention, real time alerting, for example; while the second is the measurement of consumption using the new smart meters, which shift from one reading a month per consumer to one hundred readings a day.”
Already today advanced sensors make it possible to monitor and communicate data on, for example, levels of humidity, ozone, ultrasounds etc. The information gathered by the sensors is transmitted to gateways and elaborated by data centres using machine learning algorithms with increasingly sophisticated models of data reading. This process, Veronese explained, is called AIoT, Artificial Intelligence applied to the Internet of Things, and it brings enormous benefits in terms of grid efficiency. With the introduction of 2.0 smart meters, customers’ awareness of their consumption and their client fidelity increase. “For years, utilities have educated the client to consume less,” explained Raftery. In the new scenario of energy produced in a more distributed way and consumed more efficiently, “the profits of the utilities will come from services.” This will improve the quality of life in our houses and our cities.
IoT improves the quality of life
The #EnelFocusOn format – in full Open Power philosophy – provided the ideal forum for examining the unresolved issues about the future of IoT. It offered the opportunity to question the speakers, in person and through social networks.
These issues included the cyber security risks for instruments connected in networks, the privacy implications with the growing availability of data, the possible social inequality of access to the new digital services, the need to align the increasingly rapid development of innovation with that of user- friendly services and interfaces. TV journalist George Buhnici, for example, shared his useful experience as the owner of Romania’s first certified “Passive House Premium.” The home, which is made entirely from wood, maximises energy efficiency through IoT systems and ensures temperature wellbeing, with no conventional heating plant. “Today I need 17 different apps to monitor my house, however I would like to simplify and use only one,” he explained. Essentially, IoT should improve the quality of life, not increase its complexity. And this is already happening, quicker than we might think, Deambrogio explained.
The increasing speed of innovation forces companies to rethink their organisation. Veronese believes that it is necessary to use the example of data-driven companies like Amazon and Netflix, to create a progressively more agile structure, with teams dedicated to solving one technological problem at a time, without getting sidetracked by futuristic scenarios and predictions that are often overtaken by reality. “And we should remember that failures in innovation are useful, that mistakes are not a problem,” added Raftery.
There are people already planning fully electric airplanes. “After all, I just landed in Bucharest on automatic pilot,” noted Veronese. “In the future, there will only be two members of a flight team, a pilot and a dog: the first to reassure the passengers, the second to make sure no one touches anything,” joked Raftery.
The future is now: it’s connected, electric and increasingly autonomous.