Distributech is the largest north american utility event. In that blogpost we will share DTECH2020 ThingsLog impressions and learnings from Smart city, AMI/AMR, aero and customer engagement.

Introduction

DTECH2020 is the largest utility show in North America and the largest utility in which ThingsLog has participated.

On the show there were excibitors from pretty much anything related to utilities and their business. On DTECH2020 focus was on micro grid and solar edge and customer engagement platforms. Real giants such as GE, Itron and Sensus were also present. Challengers like Aclara were among the main sponsors on the DTECH2020. IT & Cloud guys has been presented by companies like Microsoft, Oracle and Amazon. Telecom like Verizon and AT&T were also present on the show. Countries like Brazil and Canada had common stands on that we also spoted quite interesting solutions.

DTECH2020 atmosphere

Why ThingsLog has traveled half the world to visit DTECH2020

Our interest was mostly in the AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) & AMR (Automatic Meter Reading) solutions. We were looking also for customer engament platforms as potential parners for combined solutions and for typical distributors as resalers of our products.

ThingsLog DTECH2020 team 
Nikolay Milovanov and Stefan Apostolov
ThingsLog team on the show

AMI/AMR

Traditonal manufacturers like Itron, Sensos, GE, Honywell still dominate the AMI/AMR market. However most of the solutions of those vendors are able to handle only there own meters. That leave room for others to offer multi-vendor AMI/AMRs.

Converting dull energy meters to smart one

The focust was mostly on power and energy metering. American power meters are rather large devices. Most of the 3th party solutions were related to embedabble data logger modules inside the power meter. A vendor of such products are our friends from Ubik.

Energy metering solutions without a power meter

There were a few external energy monitoring loggers for advanced current parameter measurements. The loggers are based on direct attachment of rogowski coil or current transformers. This is common and not so difficult. The impressive part is adding an energy harvesting coil as a power source for the logger. Although those were not AMI/AMR related we admire the idea and beleive that such products have its role in operation of distribution networks.

Low power data loggers similar to ThingsLog products

On the low power data logger side there were manufacturers of interesting solutions for cable usage trackers and comapnies that were producing data loggers for consumption monitoring (nothing too innovative to be honnest).

A photo of one of the items with C size Lithium batteries, battery holder and quite interesting enclosure mechanism.

Competitor's data logger
Competitor’s product
Verizon smart water data logger
That huge “Thing” is the Verizon data logger for water metering and monitoring

System integrators in utility business were also well present. There were companies offering proffesional services to the utilities and their customers. Distributors and solution providers with wide range of capabilities that we were looking for were also part of the show.

Aero observations for utility operators at DTECH

Dron manufacturers and aero observation solutions also captured our attention.

A hybrid between a drone and an airplane
Aerodron

US utility market

One of the key things we have learned is the structure of US utility market, kind of players types of utilities, what are they using what are they looking for. Hope to use that knowledge for the fututure and to be able to provide them with niche quality products in the AMI/AMR field. Bellow is a map of one of the main utility groups on US market – the cooperative utlity companies.

America's Electric cooperative network

Cooperative utlities are a kind of companies that we rarely have in Europe. They were found by the people that needed the utility service and have very large number of shareholders. 2/3 of US is covered by such utility companies.

From AMI/AMR to a customer engagment platforms

AMI/AMR is nothing if you can’t make a customer engagement platform from it (similar to what we do with our ThingsLog mobile app). The data gathered by the AMI/AMR could be used for different purposes: metering by the operator, troubleshooting, analytics and forcasting of energy/water usage. Another very basic usage is to show to the customer what he is consuming so hopefully the consumer to start using the resources in a more optimial smarter way.

Sensus smart meter vision
Sensus smart meter vision

Smart in the utility business means nothing if we continue to consume as before – without care, in disconnect between the customer and the utility and with very late feedback related to a calculated bill received once per month and a real one received once per year.

US utilities in direction customer engagement

US utilities are going more and more in a direction of customer engagement. The first step is AMI or at least AMR. There are a large numbers of meters with pulsers deployed in the field. Nobody is really willing to replace those with smart meters for now. Thus companies are looking for solutions able to provide value from the existing metering infrastructure. Which is actually our core business.

US utilities and LPWAN service market

One potential obstacle is that smart metering requires network connectivity. Solutions like walk-by or even drive by are not serious on that scale. So LPWAN is what could shine here. In US AT&T and Verizon dominate the mobile telecom services market. It seems that here is not sufficient IoT LPWAN products to have FCC approval. They have to pass also special telecom certification programs.

That combined with poor network coverage leads to solutions working on private or open frequcences used purely for the purposes of utility metering and monitoring. On the show there were many manufacturers offering private LTE networks to utility companies. As a surprise LoRa and other free ISM spectrum solutions are not something considered seriously by the north american utility business at the moment.

Good news @ DTECH2020 for ThingsLog

The good news for DTECH2020 ThingsLog participation was the fact that north america is widely covered with meters with pulse outputs quite suitable for our ThingsLog data loggers and overal solution.

US gas flow meter with pulse output and a data logger
US gas flow meter with pulse output and a data logger

NB-IoT is also present which makes such products easy to enter the US market. There is common agreement between FCC and European comission for mutual agreement. This helps in terms of common certification. Since we have former telecom background telecom certifications are also nothing new for us.

Conclusions

DTECH 2020 was a great show for us. We met some old friends, made a new one, did a couple of early stage partnerships, collaborated with others. In addtion we learned new things and now have ideas for a couple of new products.

DTECH2020 ThingsLog colaborating with Chinese in grid monitoring
Discussing real time grid monitoring solution with Chinese power
DTECH2020 ThingsLog colaborating  in smart network connectivity
Make new friends in the smart connectivity business
Have fun with La cucaracha @ DTECH2020

ThingsLog had a great time on DTECH2020.

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