May 2020 IoT News

By Pilgrim - May 22, 2020

This is my 14th monthly IoT update and I'd like to start by recognising and thanking our amazing DevicePilot team who are powering-on through the personal and commercial disruption of this epidemic to articulate some of our great use-cases, support our customers and win new ones, launch new product features, and even raise funding for growth. In particular, LinkedIn just reminded me that my co-founder Keith Reed and I started-out on the DevicePilot journey together 6 years ago - so thanks for putting-up with me during all that time Keith! A lot has changed - and a lot of change is still to come.

If anything the consensus is that COVID-19 has only accelerated changes already under-way in markets such as New Energy and Agri-tech, both of which share the classic IoT challenge that they are deployed into the uncontrollable "real world".

New Energy

COVID-related energy reduction is accelerating the end of coal and the UK just achieved its first "coal-free" month since 1882. I'm grateful for insights from recent conversations with the likes of Ian de Vries of Balancell, Steve Cunningham of Landis & Gyr, Pete Armstrong of Mixergy and Arthur Joannic of Delta-EE who have all helped to update me on the new energy landscape.

It's not incumbents who drive revolutions, it's the upstarts. Connected energy companies may find that customers don't value the connectivity until it tells them something vital to their business (e.g. are they hitting their SLAs) – there's perhaps an analogy with the cellphone, where as mobile phone appeared no-one was quite sure why you'd want one. A surprising amount of the innovation is happening at grid edge, perhaps because consumer equipment turnover happens much more quickly than grid purchasing, but also because there's a less centralised mindset. Tesla just registered as energy provider in the UK (VW has done something similar in Germany). I was interested to see Centrica and Lotus collaborating on a new model for EV ownership. And Elexon (the privatised part of the UK national grid that deals with payment settlement) have been doing workshops to explore whether - with all the new energy services popping up in the home - rather than paying a single lumped-together 'utility' bill, once your EV, PV, heating and perhaps home battery are all being managed independently, it might be possible, and perhaps easier, to buy each as a service (optimised energy costs included).

We're approaching the centenary of the UK's National Grid, a bold experiment which has served us well. 10 years ago many people said it wouldn't cope with lots of renewables, but now we have roughly 50% renewables and the lights are still on. Though apparently the grid is getting a bit "jittery" - with an increasing number of diverse producers and consumers it may be time to give up on the idea of centralised management. And indeed if you look at the cost of the grid, you can see why an increasing number of companies, and even individuals, are becoming "grid defectors" - putting a battery between them and the grid so they can import only cheap electricity (or none if they locally generate), and make themselves much less dependent on grid reliability.  Renewables are not only taking-over generation, they are hitting cost-parity with fossil-fuels and still falling, and this is driving-down the overall cost of electricity. Yet the cost of the grid remains the same (I pay around 7p/kWh for the electricity I import, yet get only 3p/kWh for what I export - so the grid is imposing a 100% tax). This provides a strong incentive to generate locally, and we might yet move into a world where economics dictates that the grid can become less reliable.

Agri-tech

Last month we heard about how Winnow is shaping the end of the food chain and this month I've been grateful to Stuart Oda of Alesca Life for his insights into Agri-tech, the start of the food chain. Alesca's automated farms are deployed by governments and even the military to ensure access to fresh vegetables. Whether in arable or livestock, Agri-tech seems possessed by the same revolutionary passion that we see in Energy - the urgency to change the world for the better. And the two worlds are of course connected (everything's connected) as for example irrigation can account for more than 50% of a farm's energy consumption. 

I've recently been reading the excellent book Wilding about returning land to nature, and how managing grazing animals across a large area is key to ecosystem regeneration. So I was delighted that we welcomed on board Nofence as a new Ag-tech customer this month, as that's exactly what they do! 

COVID partner/customer news

Other IoT news

  • Oneweb goes into receivership
  • Starlink launches another 60 satellites and announces private Beta testing within 6 months
  • China launches a couple of IoT-specific satellites.
  • Fleet have a nifty satellite-to-LoRAWAN gateway
  • As national operators start to block permanently-roaming SIMs, FloLIVE introduces a SIM that automatically reprograms itself for the local country (so it "roams" without roaming).

Until next month,

-Pilgrim 

P.S. Sign up to receive this newsletter monthly here.

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