Over the past few years, we’ve seen Smart grid and IT technology vendors change their approach to the utility data analytics. Recently two smart network firms, Itron and Silver Spring Networks, have outlined a similar direction to their future development. Both US firms, who reported impressive third-quarter earnings last week, used the opportunity to highlight how they’re picking up traction in a slow market and lay out their next field of competition – the internet of things (IoT).
“Smart cities and Internet of Things applications and interoperability in industrial communications are driving new IoT opportunities”, said Itron CEO Philip Mezey in the opening comments of his Q3 earnings call.
Offering city planners a range of solutions, Itron has evolved significantly from its founding 40 years ago as a business solely focused on electricity meter technology. The company now offers end-to-end integrated solutions, which it characterizes as network communications, data-collection systems, meter-data management software, and other metering software applications.
According to the company, its IoT-based technology platform enables solutions that "power new and better approaches to outage analysis, diversion detection, transformer loading, detection of unsafe grid conditions, and integration of renewables".
“We continue to see strong customer opportunities involving smarter endpoints, software analytics and services, and we are driving innovation in these areas”, added Mr. Mezey during the call. “At Itron Utility Week in October, we unveiled plans for the next generation communications system for energy and water customers. With OpenWay Riva, we will have a single open standards-based network and application platform for electricity, gas and water utilities; differentiating Itron and positioning the company to deliver an industry-leading multi-purpose network”.
Unlike Itron, Silver Spring Networks is a pure play in the smart city market. The company's networking platform provides the foundation on which a smart city infrastructure can be built. For example, the company recently announced a partnership with Acuity Brands to develop an intelligent lighting system for cities.
This alone is a substantial market. According to the company's press release, older street lights can account for up to 40% of a city's energy budget, but by "networking upgraded LED luminaires, cities can lower costs by as much as 60% by reducing energy expenses and increasing operational efficiency".
“Lighting is truly at an inflection point and the forthcoming shakeout over the next 5 years will determine the winners and losers in the game; as well as those who will be the lighting giants of the future” states Memoori’s most recent report, which focuses on the growth of Bus-based lighting controls and their convergence with IT Networks and integration into the Building Internet of Things (BIoT).
Silver Spring Networks famously won the contract to light the City of Lights, when they signed an agreement with the Paris city council. Silver Springs has also provided solutions for a number of global cities worldwide, including Copenhagen, Sao Paolo, Melbourne, Singapore and most recently (but perhaps not as “global”) Halifax, Nova Scotia.
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While smart street lighting is the company’s bread and butter, Silver Spring’s new fifth-generation networking platform was announced at the beginning of the year. “Milli 5” is a postage-stamp sized communications module that sensor manufacturers can embed in their devices to provide economic, battery-powered connectivity and edge intelligence for a new class of IoT applications.
It seems clear that as local and national governments look to usher their cities into the 21st century by employing widespread smart technology, businesses that specialise in the IoT will reap the benefits.