VERGE Ahead: 7 trends to watch in 2013

As the new year begins, we take a look at the unique and intriguing opportunities for VERGE technologies. Here we include a collection of trends on the emerging role of cities and how data, IT and new platforms for third-party development continue to disrupt the markets for energy and transportation.

1. Rise of machine-to-machines
Thanks to the tremendous growth in advanced computing, low-cost sensor technology and ubiquitous connectivity, the "Internet of Things" and machine-to-machine (M2M) technology is hitting the mainstream. The automated management and optimization of energy, manufacturing and transportation is indeed making waves with global technology giants jumping on board with their own signature M2M brands: Cisco ("Internet of Everything"), GE ("Industrial Internet") and IBM ("Smarter Planet"). A number of new Internet-enabled appliances are popping up, from smart thermostats to help home owners save energy (Nest and ecobee) to the next wave of advanced lighting (Enlighted, Green Wave Reality, and Philips). The intersection between mobile technology, sensors and intelligent buildings is sure to prove intriguing in the coming year.

2. Platforms to accelerate energy efficiency
Information technology is redefining the ways commercial and industrial buildings operate. By offering new levels of transparency to monitor systems with real-time data and track and analyze energy use, a host of web-based platforms allow facilities managers and building engineers to squeeze out every bit of efficiency in buildings old and new. But with some 200 energy management tools and software available, facilities managers face a daunting task to navigate a crowded market. While the industry is far from seeing connected, intelligent buildings as the norm, the emerging ecosystem of energy efficient platforms provides a glimpse into the future of energy efficiency.

3. Cities push data transparency for energy use
A spate of cities are now mandating that owners of large commercials buildings measure and release records of their annual energy usage. These laws are designed to bring greater transparency to the commercial real estate market, incentivize landlords to develop energy efficiency and retrofit strategies, and help potential tenants understand a building’s energy consumption. A number of U.S. cities are leading the way with energy disclosure laws, including  New York City, Seattle, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Austin, and San Francisco -- a list that is sure to grow in 2013.

Next Page: Green Button, apps and city revitalization efforts

4. Green Button in an app-centric world
The release of Green Button -- a feature to let consumers and businesses download their own detailed energy usage -- has been adopted by 33 utilities in the U.S. But so far only seven utilities have truly implemented programs to take advantage of the data which is seen as a catalyst and platform for app developers to produce new services and products. One notable new service utilizing cloud-based, energy data includes Johnson Controls' Panoptix management platform, intended to help commercial building owners and operators save energy and money. Among the initial third-party developers participating include First Fuel, EnergyAi, Lucid and EnergyPoints. For residential energy management, a host of options are emerging with apps to track and compare energy use, from Opower's partnership with Facebook to mobile energy apps from the likes of JouleBug, Leafully, and U.K.'s AlertMe. Utilities will continue to jump on board with Green Button commitments and more-and-more platforms should be available for business and consumers to try out third-party applications for energy management.

5. Electrifying fleets and EV car-sharing services
With the historic launch of electric vehicles just two years ago, there's been a great detail of anticipation in the growth of EVs. While there certainly has been some uptake -- a nearly 200 percent increase in sales of plug-in vehicles in the U.S. in 2012 and 14 models on the market today -- the excitement has waned a bit. Still, we're likely to see modest growth as municipalities and businesses modernize and electrify their fleets. Indeed, Indianapolis, Indiana (the 12th largest city in the U.S.) recently made a commitment to shift all their light duty vehicles to plug-ins and hybrids by 2025. Another growth driver is the introduction of EV car-sharing services. Two prominent automakers offering new car-sharing services include BMW with their all-electric Active E fleet in San Francisco and Daimler's Car2Go service in San Diego. By collaborating with cities on the buildout of charging infrastructures and giving consumers a chance to "test drive" an electric vehicle, these services -- and new ones sure to sprout in 2013 -- will help drive the growth of EVs.

6. Can renewable energy gain ground?
Through renewable portfolio standards (RPS) utilities are increasingly required to purchase energy from renewable sources. Some 30 U.S. states, as well several countries throughout Europe and Latin America, are adopting the RPS in an effort to drive adoption of renewable energy. Integrating renewable energy into the grid builds competition and energy innovation, an important trend in the future of VERGE technologies. But a lack of federal standards for RPS presents a huge market barrier. And while portfolio standards -- as well as energy storage, distributed generation and microgrids -- help create innovation for energy markets, the current low cost of shale and natural gas is significantly impacting the growth of renewable energy.

7. Cities 2.0 and economic revitalization
In the recent report "CityStates," authored by our partner SustainAbility, one message resonated: “Business should view cities as a crucial frame through which to understand and pursue sustainability.” Cities are increasingly the place to leverage gains in energy efficiencies, scale sustainability goals and develop more informed, revitalized communities. At our VERGE event in San Francisco in November, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh presented his company's plans to transform downtown Las Vegas into the “most community-focused large city in the world." Hsieh highlighted current efforts to bring technology, education and small business development together. We'll see open data and converging technologies as additional enablers for municipal governments to work with businesses and citizens to develop "cities 2.0."

Road ahead photo via Shutterstock