M2M APPS: Can you summarize Maingate's activities and its core competence?
BAARD EILERTSEN: The company is a solution provider for smart grids, smart buildings and smart homes. Maingate delivers end-to-end network control for energy and industrial companies. We see ourselves as being a driver and enabler of solutions that will help deliver a sustainable future for generations to come.
M2M APPS: How do you see tomorrow’s “Smarter Society” evolving?
BAARD EILERTSEN: I see it evolving by bringing all relevant stakeholders together in order to create unified energy solutions. This cannot be realized by keeping the biggest group outside the discussion and that group is society. Everyone has to be brought into the equation: they have to be activated and involved in the flow of energy-related information. Ideally everyone should be aware of the need to conserve energy and become knowledgeable enough to play an active role in the creation of a smarter society and in that way improve the world in which we live. Our role in that process comes by creating dynamic, two-way dialogues between energy providers and energy citizens.
M2M APPS: What do you see as the role of the Internet of Things in that society? Is it overhyped?
BAARD EILERTSEN: In my opinion it is overhyped and while many people talk about the IoT they don’t know what it really means or what those “things” are. It doesn’t matter if there are 10 billion things out there by 2016 or if it will rise to 50 billion by 2020. They are just stats. What does matter is what we are going to do with them. There’s a lot of information out there already and we don’t always know what to do with it and as we add more things, more devices, it will grow and grow. But if we can somehow add some intelligence and convert information into knowledge, distill out what is useful, then we would have an Internet of Knowledge that could deliver some really great benefits. Let me give you an example. There’s a lot of talk about big data and not enough about basic data. If a utility tries to analyze all the data that is being generated in the smart grid environment it would take a long time and they wouldn’t learn anything useful. What the utility really wants to know is very basic: what is going on at the transformer stations, and they want that knowledge now.
M2M APPS: In a recent interview you talked about stopping Europe’s lights going out. It's a provocative thought so please explain.
BAARD EILERTSEN: Actually it is not provocative: it’s the truth. We’re getting close to the time when European-wide blackouts will take place and it will happen because the industry is losing control of the infrastructure. The critical issue is the fact that flows are bi-directional. Energy is being fed into the distribution networks from market-generated energy sources like solar panels. This process cannot be controlled and it’s changing the grid status in terms of frequency and power loads and grids will shut down unless safety procedures are implemented. What the industry is experiencing is the impact of unregulated business moving in on the utilities’ regulated infrastructure. These forces are working against each other: they don’t coexist and that causes changes in frequency. The grid was designed to deliver electricity at precisely 50Hz and if a variation is detected, it can be as low as 0.2 percent, then that part of the grid will shut down automatically. It’s an intrinsic function, however, we also have an intrinsic issue. Germany’s grid is connected to those of other countries, e.g. Austria and France: France is connected to Belgium and so on. It’s a Euro-wide grid infrastructure so if one domino falls others will follow. The solution is not simple, but it is available. Firstly we have to get a common framework where regulated and un-regulated businesses can co-exist with the sole goal of making the energy grid future proof. This means that utility regulators have to open the regulation process so that utilities can work alongside ventures that affect their grid operation. These could be solar panel suppliers or other parties that are connected to the grid through the homes. Secondly we have to increase the investments in technology that can help us understand and react to abnormalities in the grid. In other words, we need a Smart Grid!
M2M APPS: What is your take on the merger of M2M solutions with mainstream ICT? Will it come via the cloud?
BAARD EILERTSEN: Before answering I’d like to say something about M2M as a term. It’s too late to do anything about it, but in itself M2M doesn’t convey anything of value. It’s a telco expression. The second M should be an H: H for Human. If energy-conscious citizens want to see their energy consumption then the information should be available on a smartphone or a private portal on the utility’s Web site if that is their preference. It doesn’t have to be an in-house display: that’s a product-based approach. As an industry we need a better understanding of the human element. Part of that understanding is to move away from historic product thinking and focus instead on service-orientated offers and the cloud is an ideal medium. The ICT industry talks about three forms of cloud computing, one of which is “infrastructure as a service”. The cloud is an efficient and convenient way of providing an M2M information service and it also facilitates integration with business processes.
M2M APPS: Could you say a few words about SUST?
BAARD EILERTSEN: It stands for sustainable innovation and it’s also the name of a Swedish company that engages in the research and development of energy efficient systems and products. It’s funded by several companies, one of which is Maingate, as well as the Swedish Energy Agency. As an industry we have lots of great ideas and we run various pilots, but we found that we really needed was a common company, a mutual organization, that could run large-scale projects. And we needed high-profile projects in order to interest and engage the wider community: reach the energy citizens I talked about earlier. That’s what SUST is doing. It helps us cooperate and coordinate the work we do on various projects. Unlike a regular commercial operation, projects are supported by the energy agency, a utility like E.ON and other interested parties. One of SUST’s goals is to bridge the “wallet of death” gap between development and launch.
M2M APPS: Finally, what changes do you foresee in the next 12 months?
BAARD EILERTSEN: I see a lot of changes coming up. The utilities will be taking more technology on board and pursuing the many opportunities that are opening up in the energy environment. Another trend we see is a shift in buying behavior. Companies used to buy components and products but now they are looking into how an end-to-end service provider could deliver what they need. They have understood the need to focus on the function they are buying instead of the technology. Furthermore they are looking for functions that will help them change their own business in terms of growth instead of simply looking at ways of reducing costs. Last but not least the drivers which put information on the Internet and in the Cloud and which come up with end-to-end solutions will come from the energy industry and not the ICT sector or MNOs and MVNOs.