In our previous whitepaper, we presented the challenges posed to the utilities industry through the dismantling of 2G. This piece will feature the many opportunities that can still arise within this challenging transition time, and how one company, Eneco, has risen to the occasion.
Goodbye 2G, Hello Opportunity
There’s a new technology making waves in the industry. It’s called LTE-M and it is here to replace 2G connectivity. The rise of LTE-M solutions could be one the most exciting technological advancements of the decade.
So, what is LTE-M exactly? LTE-M is part of the 4G-LTE evolution – which has been commonplace in the industry for years. It is designed to be as similar to 2G as possible in terms of integration. It has a direct end-to-end connection between the end node and the server as well as open connections for internet protocols, which are implemented on device level (i.e. mqtt and https). It also boasts large amounts of power and data-saving modes that help make it future proof and scalable for providers.
Unlocking Use Cases
The end of 2G is indeed a hurdle to overcome, especially if a company is in the business of controlling and monitoring hundreds of thousands of systems across the Netherlands, like many utility companies are. But in an industry that is already transforming rapidly, the right outlook on this shift is key. Utility companies can use this time to take full advantage of the disablement of 2G through the rapid adoption of LTE-M.
Use cases previously solved with 2G can be easily replaced with higher bandwidth connections, while new use cases that were once not possible due to the limitations of 2G, suddenly become reality.
It’s also important to keep in mind that despite its many benefits, LTE-M may not be the ideal solution to every challenge, but in many cases, it can unlock decades of use cases previously not achievable with 2G.
If a utility company meets the following criteria, then LTE-M just might be the perfect solution.
- Assets are scattered around a large geographic area.
- The desire for reliable data communications with a high level of default security.
- The option to stream complete firmware packages when needed.
- Hundreds of thousands of assets in the field and operational costs are an important factor.
It’s good to mention that, technically speaking, many of the use cases we’re talking about could have been realised with 2G. But economically speaking, the cost to pursue these cases with 2G would have been astronomical compared to using LTE-M (in some cases, up to 400% more). Therefore, it was not the technology preventing these innovations from becoming a reality, but quite simply, the cost.
Use cases that were once not possible due to the limitations of 2G, suddenly become reality.
Fully Leveraging all that LTE-M has to Offer
Eneco is one of the utilities companies leading the way through this transition. They have adopted various LTE-M solutions that not only future-proof their company, but that finally bring about multiple use cases their innovators have been dreaming about implementing for decades.
As one of the most innovative utility companies in the Netherlands, and one of the largest (serving more than 2.4 million customers), they prefer to look ahead and see how technology can shift their business models to thrive in a new world without 2G. Their end goal? To supply a higher level of comfort for their clients and increase efficiency levels throughout their operation.
The key to achieving their vision for the future hinges on one major factor – the comfort level they can provide to their end user. By optimising (or even maintaining) their end user’s comfort during not only a global energy transition, but also while implementing new solutions in every home, Eneco can press leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
This kind of data gives Eneco a higher chance of improving customer satisfaction and edging out the competition, while managing the privacy of residents. No customer data will be accessed without full knowledge and consent of said residents.
With this goal in mind, Eneco, along with TWTG, have developed the “Communication Module”. This future-proof device is Eneco’s new platform for connecting all of their heating-related equipment throughout their entire network, all in one place. It was developed with the highest of standards in mind in terms of cyber security, remote maintenance, and hardware longevity.
The main device communicates (via LTE-M, of course) to a cloud interface that is equipped with big data analytics and remote device management tools. This results in near real-time insight and incredible amounts of data that can be used, with client approval, to optimise customer service.
The device has multiple input possibilities which can be connected with a variety of systems including MBUS meters, heating boilers, solar power inverters, heat pumps, and even district heating installations. Making this device incredibly versatile and ready for all data challenges that Eneco might have now or in the future.
There are three key use cases that Eneco plans to realise with the communication module and it’s LTE-M connectivity.
The Communication Module enables remote readouts of existing district heating meters. This results in better insights for the client, options to advise regarding more efficient uses of electricity, or, if permitted, to better understand a customer’s usage patterns.
Meter usage monitoring
Eneco is the largest supplier of maintenance contracts in the Netherlands for central heating boilers. These central heating boilers create the warm water supply as well as the general heating systems in a consumer’s home. They depend on proper maintenance to ensure accurate and efficient use.
With a remote connection, Eneco can check data readouts such as health statuses, burn hours, error messages, and even set temperatures if needed. This allows for a “remote fix” without ever having to send an engineer to a client’s home. If in-person maintenance service is necessary, it can be planned more effectively (i.e. when it’s still warm enough outside that a faulty installation can be repaired in time for winter). Leading to increased efficiency and higher customer satisfaction.
Smarter District Heating
This is the city-wide level equivalent to the usage monitoring case described above. Through remote readouts of every household’s energy demand patterns, the city can better distribute its excess heat evenly and accurately throughout the city. This ensures that everyone will receive consistent and even access to energy when it’s most needed.
There are many other potential business benefits when making the switch to LTE-M connectivity solutions. Some of the most notable of these opportunities include:
- Generating insights on usage data that was previously unknown
- More insight available that can be acted upon in near real-time
- More precise data to be collated and interrogated by data scientists within the utility industries
- Monitor health / maintenance data remotely in order to eliminate downtime
- The ability to remotely control assets, allowing for better energy distribution and energy usage
- The ability to remotely control assets will also allow for more efficient energy purchases, as energy can be stored when abundantly available
- Identification and elimination of bottlenecks in the system for better optimisation and increased efficiency
All of these business benefits (and many more) ultimately increase efficiency and improve customer service, therefore streamlining processes and increasing profits. Despite the fact that the choice to move away from 2G is not being made willingly, don’t let that small frustrating detail distract from the endless opportunities being unlocked with the rise of LTE-M.
This piece was written by Valerie Thornewell. It is the second piece in a series of 3 whitepapers focused on specific use cases of I-IoT / LTE-M solutions for the Utilities Industry. Next up: We will feature use cases for the telecom sector.