ARC: digital transformation and smart cities
Technology research and advisory firm ARC recently posted a blog exploring the effect that digital transformation has had on smart city development.
Chris Cunnane, Research Director, and Jim Frazer, VP of Infrastructure, discussed how the popular trend was electrifying expectations and changing the fundamentals of work and everyday life.
Frazer identifies some key pillars or principles when applying digital transformation to the construction of smart cities, namely ‘technology updating’ (IoT, AI, machine learning, digital twin, etc), ‘process review’ and ‘cultural adaptation’.
Regarding the latter, Frazer emphasises that converting employees to a new way of working can “often [...] be the biggest challenge to overcome”.
Blueprint for a smart city
When taking into account the breadth of technologies that will need to be employed to successfully create a smart city, particularly for the adequate monitoring and optimisation of utilities, developers will need a thorough understanding of the tech infrastructure needed, such as sensors, analytics software and integrated data platforms (cloud).
“It's important to remember that public agencies have a range of typically nine verticals that are generally accepted as part of the Smart City domain.
“That’s energy infrastructure, transportation, water and wastewater, waste management, public services, public services of police and fire. You need to wrap all of those into one unified interoperable backhaul network called the Smart City Platform,” he said.
Moving away from legacy tech
If a system cannot work seamlessly with its components, it fails to achieve the enhanced interoperability which will ultimately define the modern smart city, Frazer claims. The barrier to achieving this can often be summed up in one problem: legacy systems.
Although the rapid development of technological development is exciting, it can also happen at a pace which outstrips the existing infrastructure’s ability to upgrade sufficiently. Bringing older systems up to speed should be a priority.
“There are some initiatives in that area in terms of standards that are driving that forward. The US Department of Transportation, in fact, has a range of interoperable standards for everything, for almost every device that fits on a highway,” explains Frazer.
“Lastly, the user needs – one of the biggest obstacles is that there are a plethora of stakeholder communities that need to be corralled. You need to find their needs, achieve consensus, and refine them into measurable requirements.”
Smart cities and the optimisation of energy within them is already firmly underway, with encouraging results already being shown. By establishing a solid roadmap for progression, modern smart cities will be able to achieve an ambitious integration of tech with everyday life.
For more information on energy digital topics - please take a look at the latest edition of Energy Digital Magazine.
Ofwat allows retailers to raise prices from April
Retailers can recover a portion of excess bad debt by temporarily increasing prices from April 2022, according to an Ofwat statement.
The regulator confirmed its view that levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue, thereby allowing "a temporary increase" in the maximum prices. Adjustments to price caps will apply for a minimum of two years to reduce the step changes in price that customers might experience.
Measures introduced since March 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19 could lead to retailers facing higher levels of customer bad debt. Retailers’ abilities to respond to this are expected to be constrained by Ofwat strengthening protections for non-household customers during Covid-19 and the presence of price caps.
In April last year, Ofwat committed to provide additional regulatory protection if bad debt costs across the market exceeded 2% of non-household revenue.
Georgina Mills, Business Retail Market Director at Ofwat said: “These decisions aim to protect the interests of non-household customers in the short and longer term, including from the risk of systemic Retailer failure as the business retail market continues to feel the impacts of COVID-19. By implementing market-wide adjustments to price caps, we aim to minimise any additional costs for customers in the shorter term by promoting efficiency and supporting competition.”
There are also three areas where Ofwat has not reached definitive conclusions and is seeking further evidence and views from stakeholders:
- Pooling excess bad debt costs – Ofwat proposes that the recovery of excess bad debt costs is pooled across all non-household customers, via a uniform uplift to price caps.
- Keeping open the option of not pursuing a true up – For example if outturn bad debt costs are not materially higher than the 2% threshold.
- Undertaking the true up – If a 'true up' is required, Ofwat has set out how it expects this to work in practice.
Further consultation on the proposed adjustments to REC price caps can be expected by December.
"While it’s great that regulators are helping the industry deal with bad debt in the wake of the pandemic, raising prices only treats the symptoms. Instead, water companies should head upstream, using customer data to identify and rectify the causes of bad debt, stop it at source and help prevent it from occurring in the first place," she said.
"While recouping costs is a must, water companies shouldn’t just rely on the regulator. Data can help companies segment customers, identify and assist customers that are struggling financially, avoiding penalising the entire customer in tackling the cause of the issue."
United Utilities picks up pipeline award
A race-against-time plumbing job to connect four huge water pipes into the large Haweswater Aqueduct in Cumbria saw United Utilities awarded Utility Project of the Year by Pipeline Industries Guild.
The Hallbank project, near Kendal, was completed within a tight eight-day deadline, in a storm and during the second COVID lockdown last November – and with three hours to spare. Principal construction manager John Dawson said the project helped boost the resilience of water supplies across the North West.
“I think what made us stand out was the scale, the use of future technology and the fact that we were really just one team, working collaboratively for a common goal," he said.
Camus Energy secures $16m funding
Camus Energy, which provides advanced grid management technology, has secured $16 million in a Series A round, led by Park West Asset Management and joined by Congruent Ventures, Wave Capital and other investors, including an investor-owned utility. Camus will leverage the operating capital to expand its grid management software platform to meet growing demand from utilities across North America.
As local utilities look to save money and increase their use of clean energy by tapping into low-cost and low-carbon local resources, Camus' grid management platform provides connectivity between the utility's operations team, its grid-connected equipment and customer devices.