Energy efficiency, minus human error: HP's new Internet of Things bet

Energy efficiency, minus human error: HP's new Internet of Things bet


Cities, utilities and enterprise businesses often struggle to conserve energy and water because their ability to do so depends partly on human behavior — on individuals remembering to turn things off. Even with incentives offered by utilities and the automation of smart meters and NEST style Internet-driven sensors, energy efficiency is still lagging.

“The problem is that saving energy is not simple. It requires changing deep-rooted behavior,” said World Bank senior energy efficiency specialist Jas Singh, writing in a recent World Bank blog post about the global quest to reduce energy consumption.

Now, Hewlett-Packard thinks it may have an answer: Go right to the communications service providers — who control the backbone networks of the Internet — to offer embedded energy conservation and resource management applications in an Internet of Things platform.

HP last week introduced a secure IoT platform tailored for big communications service providers to, in turn, sell applications to big utilities, cities and enterprises. HP then rolled out a model application to use on the platform: an Energy Management Pack. 

With security and IoT data analytics laced through it, HP’s Energy Management Pack is geared to help utilities manage supply and demand on its grids and offer customers an option to let the utility perform their energy efficiency measures. For example, with the IoT application, utilities would have the capacity to reach into customers’ premises — preferably after an opt-in from customers —  and turn off HVAC or lighting within an office building during hours when sensors indicate there are no people. Water utilities could manage cities’ or school districts' water use by reaching in to turn off sprinklers when sensors detect rain or already saturated park lawns.

“This provides the capabilities to utilities, to enterprise businesses and to the consumer to apply some automation to the way that they consume energy,” said Jeff Edlund, chief technologist in communications and media solutions for HP’s Enterprise Services division.

“Utility companies want to manage their grids the best way they can for all of their users. They don’t want to have to buy extra power at peak demand times. They’d like to smooth things out. We built into this a smart lighting solution that allow municipalities to better manage street lighting. Based on data from things like traffic patterns, a city might decide that a street with four street lights on a block could turn off two of them,” in off hours when sensor detect no pedestrians.

In truth, HP’s Internet of Things platform is just one of a slew of big IoT offerings coming out of Silicon Valley. Intel, Cisco, GE, Google and others have Internet of Things offerings. Smaller companies also have entered the fray, often with consumer-oriented IoT products.

But what HP has done is answer a gnawing concern with Internet of Things by layering in sophisticated security and then taking an end run around human forgetfulness and laziness by going right to the gatekeepers of the Internet — the communications service providers — with the product.

In the past two years as a slew of Internet of Things products come out of Silicon Valley — watches, automobile parts, smart phone applications, thermostats — concern has been raised by Congress, the Federal Trade Commission and even big Silicon Valley companies themselves about the security of all this. 

The Federal Trade Commission warned that security and privacy could be jeopardized by the proliferation of Internet of Things technologies. With all the object-to-object communications, the territory is ripe for a hacker to introduce a nefarious app.

HP itself has raised some red flags. It released a survey last summer finding that 70 percent of Internet of Things devices have security gaps. Following that, HP in January acquired data encryption company Voltage Security to strengthen its own security offerings around Big Data, cloud computing and Internet offerings.

Now it is offering a secure IoT platform to communications service providers. 

Communications service providers own the backbone material of the Internet — the fiber optic lines and routers that move digital communications around the globe. If CSPs don’t find HP’s security adequate, they most certainly will add their own — and are more likely to than cities or utilities which typically do not have the same technology expertise as a CSP.

But HP really may have hit a sweet spot in energy and water conservation.

Will Sarni, leading enterprise water strategy consultant at Deloitte Consulting and author of three books on water scarcity and risk, said data and Internet innovation is one answer to water scarcity. 

In an interview with GreenBiz not connected to the HP announcement, Sarni said, "Scarcity drives innovation. It is the outcome of having a finite resource that everyone wants."

He sees innovation in water and energy in two places, in partnerships and in technology innovation.

"For example, investments in remote sensoring or precision irrigation can lead to better decisions," Sarni said. "The ability to acquire, analyze and visualize water data" is needed and beginning to be acquired "so you can start to make better long-term decisions about how you allocate and use water."