Asian Utility Week 2016 to shine spotlight on smart city innovation

Asia’s utility needs are rising exponentially as economies boom and infrastructures modernise. Ahead of Asian Utility Week 2016, Eco-Business takes a look at some of the industry trends and business opportunities in Asia.

Asia is set to expand by 5.7 per cent in the next two years, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) says in its latest Asian Development Outlook.

Much of this rapid growth will be in Asias cities as manufacturing and services are the primary drivers for most developing nationsrising GDP, according to the World Bank. This inevitably leads to a mass migration of people as they move from rural areas to fill these jobs in the cities.

The multilateral institute notes that between 2000 and 2010, some 200 million people in East Asia moved to urban areas - a figure that would be the world’s sixth-largest population for any single country. This has in turn led to an inexorable stress on existing transport, power and utility networks, and spurred a growing demand for these basic utilities.

As the urban population in Asian cities continue to swell by 44 million every year, problems related to congestion, power outages and inadequate waste management are more likely to occur, says the ADB. Meeting Asias growing energy demand is no easy feat as it is slated to double in the next 15 years.

Smart cities to overcome urbanisation woes

Acknowledging this potential problem, Asian economies such as Singapore, China, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia have been laying the groundwork for smart city plans, which will use information and communication technologies (ICT) to manage their utilities, says the US-based think-tank IT and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).

Smart cities promise to be a next frontier of urban development, as it employs new technologies including sensors, mobile technology, and big data analytics. 

Among the smart city technologies, one rapidly growing area is the Internet of Things, also known as IoT. This technology is focused on collecting huge data streams, where sensors, devices and appliances in buildings, cars, streets, and infrastructure can be connected over the Internet, allowing them to ‘talk’ to each other and with users.

In Asia-Pacific, the biggest spend will be on government, industry and utilities, driven by smart city initiatives. 

Charles Anderson, head of mobility and IoT, IDC

Through these networks of sensors, manufacturers can digitise their entire supply chains to collect data which help to reduce process redundancies and address problems pre-emptively.

Marisela Montoliu Munoz,  director of the World Bank Groups Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, says: Improving the quality of data to understand trends in urban expansion is important, so that policy makers can make better-informed decisions to support sustainable communities in a rapidly changing environment, with access to services, jobs and housing.

Once cities are built, their urban form and land-use patterns are locked in for generations,” adds Munoz.

By harnessing the power of these big data analytics, smart grid initiatives are able to create intelligent sensor systems to minimise wasted energy, power outages, and unexpected jumps in demand.

Roderic McLauchlan, event director of the upcoming Asian Utility Week in Bangkok at the end of this month, notes that smart communicating grid devices, including smart meters, switches, and other sensors are helping put utilities “in a unique position not only to participate in the next wave of global infrastructure modernisation, but to shape its development and drive its outcomes”.

The International Data Corporation (IDC) has predicted that Asia-Pacifics (excluding Japan) IoT market will undergo massive expansion, with the number of units connected to increase from 3.1 billion this year to 8.6 billion by 2020 or 29 per cent of the global total.

Concurrently, its IoT market will double from US$250 billion to US$583 billion.

In Asia-Pacific, the biggest spend will be on government, industry and utilities, driven by smart city initiatives. After that it will be manufacturing,says Charles Anderson, head of mobility and IoT at IDC.

The ITIF cites Japan, for instance, for recognising the importance of ICT development by piloting four major smart city initiatives, including Toyota City and Yokohama. About 80 per cent of homes in these pilots will have smart meters by 2020, giving Japans smart city initiatives an estimated value of US$30.5 billion.

In particular, electric utilities face a need and opportunity to transform their business due to the bidirectional nature of distributed generation and energy storage,says McLauchlan.

This is why Asian Utility Week has a focus on assisting utilities to improve smart city services, he adds.

Digital movement

Fundamental changes in the way power and water services are distributed and improving customer engagement are just some of the issues which will be addressed at Asian Utility Week 2016, which takes place in Bangkok from May 31 to June 1.

Its theme, Building the Digital Utility, focuses on the latest innovations in smart meters, intelligent sensors, communication networks, command systems, data analytics, distributed generation, customer billing and storage solutions.

More than 2,500 industry experts from the Asean utility sector as well as Japan, Korea and Hong Kong will exchange ideas and know-how on modernising existing utility ICT architecture.

This technology is now impacting how utilities are structured and how they make their profits,says McLauchlan.

Another area that Asian Utility Week 2016 is focusing on is improving the distribution and generation of utilities in Southeast Asia.

According to the International Energy Agencys Southeast Asia Energy Outlook report in 2015, a greater integration of Aseans energy networks is needed to deliver strong benefits across the region.

To ensure continued growth and enhance energy security and sustainability, Asean would need to secure about US$2.5 trillion of cumulative investment in energy supply infrastructure to 2040, which works out to an annual average of almost $100 billion, according to the report.

With the massive market potential in Aseans energy market, Asian Utility Week 2016 has devoted a segment to promote utility partnerships. It will facilitate this by helping to set up meetings with relevant players.

“For those who have yet to begin digital projects, the benefits of and requirements for proven multi-application digital platforms are clear,” says McLauchlan.

“For those that have already deployed such infrastructure, opportunities abound to increase the return on that investment, by leveraging ongoing technical advances to play a broader role within their communities,” he adds.

Asian Utility Week 2016 is a platform that brings together the best of breed utilities using digital strategies to improve customer engagement, energy efficiency and operational excellence from across Asia, Europe and the United States.

It will be held from May 31 to June 1 at Centara Grand & Bangkok Convention Centre at Central World in Bangkok, Thailand. Sign up here to register for the event.

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