Podcast: Smart Metering: 3 companies join forces to speed transition to an open energy market
Smart Metering is back in the news in the latest Trending Tech Podcast. Jeremy Cowan talks to three senior execs from Kigen, Kore Wireless and Energy Web to hear what Smart Energy players are demanding in security, connectivity, and data control. The experts explain how smart energy is changing with the Internet of Things. And finally, the podcast learns how close collaboration with OEMs is expected to accelerate transformations in the energy and medical markets.
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Jeremy Cowan 00:04
Hi and Welcome to the latest Trending Tech Podcast. I’m Jeremy Cowan, co-founder of the Internet of Things site, www.IoT-Now.com. And it’s great to have you here for today’s podcast. We’re looking at smart metering, and in particular examining a decentralised, secure data exchange for smart grid with embedded SIM. Let’s go with e-SIM for short.
I’m delighted to be joined on the pod by three key speakers. The first is Loic Bonvarlet, who is vice president for Product Management and Marketing at Kigen, and they are our sponsors today. So, thank you, to them, and to our other speakers today from Kore and Energy Web. First, Loic’s helping to facilitate the adoption and scalability of a secure, integrated and cost-effective cellular IoT. In fact, he drives the entire Kigen portfolio, from embedded solutions to services, and Loic has more than 20 years of experience in telecoms, wireless, security, and IoT. We’ve worked together on previous webinars, Loic it’s great to have you back here.
Loic Bonvarlet 1:19
Thanks for having me, Jeremy. Pleased to be here as well.
Jeremy Cowan 1:21
And I’m delighted to say we’re also joined by Marco Bijvelds, senior vice president for Europe and Asia Pacific at Kore, and he has more than 13 years of IoT experience through senior management positions. Marco’s adaptive to the fast-paced IoT industry, and he is successfully implementing Kore’s go-to-market product strategy. It’s really good to have you here again, Marco.
Marco Bijvelds 01:51
Thanks for having me. Looking forward to the conversation today.
Jeremy Cowan 01:54
And we’re also joined by Dr. Ioannis Vlachos, the commercial director for EMEA at Energy Web. He brings 15 years’ experience working with large corporations and educational institutes worldwide in smart grids. He is a scientist, project manager, commissioning expert and consultant. Ioannis has worked closely with both academia and industry in more than 30 countries and on projects that merge the worlds of energy and ICT. Welcome, Ioannis.
Ioannis Vlachos 02:29
Great to be here, Jeremy. Thanks. Thanks a lot.
Jeremy Cowan 02:32
Today we aim for you’d have three key takeaways from the podcast. First, what should Smart Energy players be looking for in terms of security, connectivity, and data choices? Second, understanding why the smart energy sector is changing with the Internet of Things. And finally, seeing how a joint solution future-proofs you and is brought by trusted partners like these working together.
Let me turn to Loic first to look at the issue of scaling. Loic, there’s a huge amount of change and transformation happening in the smart energy and smart metering marketplace. How has Kigen been delivering in this and how does e-SIM technology play into smart metering?
Loic Bonvarlet 3:21
Yes. I’m pleased to answer that first question, Jeremy. First of all, I think till a few years back the smart energy domain was quite fragmented in terms of technology. But now you can see a growing adoption of cellular technology in smart metering in general, starting with electricity, but also expanding to gas and water, thanks to the availability of new more dedicated networks such as Cat-M, LTE Cat-M, and NB-IoT notably. So, this technology makes basically the deployment of network simpler compared to for example, a combination of technologies such as specific mesh networks or specific short range networks, etc. And the e-SIM in this space is helping the smart energy companies – so notably the utilities and also the smart meter maker to reduce the complexity of their connectivity needs management. And this is done by basically unifying and creating a simpler, smaller number of SKUs (stock keeping units) right, for example, for smart meters, which would embed any SIM right and make values profiles available on this e-SIM so various connectivity profile, allow you to connect into different operators and to basically manage the connectivity depending on deployment constraints, regulation of the specific country, specific mandates, etc.
So, in that space, specifically, Kigen has been engaged, I would say since the start of Kigen within ARM, so back in 2017, and ‘18, notably. So we did, for example, some first deployment with a company called Iskraemeco, who was a smart meter manufacturer, and was basically deploying e-SIM for their European development deployments.
Here, in this specific collaboration together with Energy Web, and Kore, it’s really about not only deploying an e-SIM, but also providing extra functionality leveraging this asset that is e-SIM to store secure credentials.
Jeremy Cowan 05:38
Yeah, we’re increasingly hearing about chip-to-cloud security. Why is this concept important for smart grid and smart energy players? And how does it benefit enterprises, Loic?
Loic Bonvarlet 3:21
So, security has really always been top of mind for the smart energy industry. And it’s fairly simple to understand why. It’s because it’s a critical infrastructure. And you might have seen in the past some stories in the news about potential attacks on critical infrastructure. And that includes, for example, most notably electricity, but also to a certain degree, gas and water. If you can control the supply of any of these energy into a country, you can create havoc in that country, right.
Really, it’s very important to be able to trust the elements that are part of the network in a smart energy deployment. And to do so, the industry have typically assigned specific keys of credentials to each element of this network. Now, the question comes, how is these keys and credentials protected in such a device, and for example, before e-SIM or secure hardware IP embedded inside the meter, you were basically storing that maybe into non-relative memory or with not a lot of protection. So, basically, someone who could get physical access to such a device could potentially modify or create a fake one that could access the network or create fake transactions, etc.
So, one of the benefits of going cellular for the smart energy industry is that you get – by default – a very secure asset, which is the embedded SIM card, and you can use that asset for locating credentials that ensure chip-to-cloud security. And that’s really one of the purposes of this collaboration here.
Jeremy Cowan 07:37
So could you describe the Open IoT SAFE initiative and how it works as part of the authentication process? And what challenges does this solve for enterprises?
Loic Bonvarlet 07:50
Right. So Open IoT SAFE is an extension of the IoT SAFE concept that was created by GSMA, which is an open standard across developed and made available by many companies in the industry. And really, it came from the situation that many, I would say, SIM vendors and different players in the industry were coming up with their own proprietary solutions to try to address this chip-to-cloud backed by the SIM type of solution. And we really wanted to simplify that and have a uniform approach that is agreed by many connectivity and SIM players. And that was really what IoT SAFE is about. Now, Open IoT SAFE is, I would say, the kind of extension of that done by Kigen, which is really focused around Open principles. That is that it’s leveraging the standard defined technology in GSMA. And also empowering the OEM (original equipment manufacturer), the one who builds the device, I’m sure that they will own and manage notably with their e-SIM, for example. So, reading on that this asset in print is present into all these smart meters, it really becomes an asset and property of the OEM, and they can manage their security relatively independently of their connectivity constraint, right? Maybe they will have to switch connectivity profile, or to meet a specific regulatory requirement in such country. Right? That doesn’t change the scheme that is established for the security with IoT SAFE, and that’s really the fundamental of this.
So how does it practically work? It basically is an application, IoT SAFE is an application – or we call it in the SIM world an applet – which will hold credential data inserted during secure manufacturing of the SIM card, of the e-SIM specifically, okay? And these will be used to basically bootstrap secrets and credentials that will establish the operational security already from the meter all the way to the backend. That’s at a very high level, the key concept behind IoT safe.
Jeremy Cowan 10:10
Thank you Loic. That very neatly brings us to Marco, looking at e-SIM connectivity. This joint solution is all about how smart grid players can leverage networks like Kore’s to benefit from scaling. Marco, can you tell us how you support rollouts and achieve scale for more data-secure devices?
Marco Bijvelds 10:34
Yeah, so first of all, I think the notion that security has been blocking the growth of IoT is an important one. I think Loic’s mentioned that as well. Scaling just requires inherently secure solutions. And this solution actually does that. But apart from the security, the operational scalability has to be there as well, right. So, a customer would like to have a device work out of the box, it should be all pre-integrated, it should be zero touch in terms of provisioning. That’s important to reskill. Also, you have to bear in mind that, since those devices of utilities are typically very long in the field, it has to be future proof. We’ve been seeing the pain of sunsets that are happening globally. For deployments, we know that solutions have to be future-proof in order to make the business case work for the utilities. So that’s another aspect to make it an operational skill.
Thirdly, which may be less relevant for DSOs (distribution system operators), but more so for OEMs. So, the actual device manufacturers, you want to have a single device that works globally, in order to simplify the logistics, the assembly, the manufacturing, and everything related to that. So, those items from an operational perspective are very important. And e-SIM is key in this, right. It’s a true enabler to simplify those things. And especially if we combine IoT SAFE with the blockchain technologies that we’re discussing today; that gives a very strong secure, fully integrated solution that works out of the box, authenticated to the cloud, and so on. But we should not forget that all has to be orchestrated, how do you manage all those devices, if you have multiple flavours in terms of skills, which still will be the case, generally, you need to be able to access a single platform to manage your future base, to manage your legacy base, and basically have access to your fleet. That orchestration is what we do. We are integrated with many carriers worldwide. So that means we don’t just, let’s say support a single MNO (mobile network operator). But truly, multiple carriers are being supported, including private networks that we can orchestrate, which is another advantage of e-SIM, a tendency of utilities to move more and more into the private network space can be orchestrated with a single platform. And that’s where Kore plays actually. And that’s where the joint solution of Kigen, Energy Web and Kore comes together.
Jeremy Cowan 12:54
That’s very reassuring. So how should smart grid players engage and evaluate the choice of connectivity technologies, Marco? And what should they be looking for in a partner for the future?
Marco Bijvelds 13:07
Yeah, so I think it depends on the type of player that you’re looking at. So, a DSO is obviously very different from an OEM, with different requirements. And if you look at DSOs, some DSOs actually want to be an MVNO – a mobile virtual network operator – themselves, which is, again, very different from DSOs that just want to have their devices connected. So, from that perspective, there’s no single answer. But in any case, I would suggest that you’re looking for a partner that can help you in your IoT journey, because in the end, it’s not just about getting your devices connected to connectivity, there’s much more to it, right? You need to design your hardware, you need to design your network, you have to sustain your base, so there’s a lot of steps alongside connectivity that are important in that whole IoT journey.
We’ve developed a seven-step customer journey for data, that’s actually addressing all those items. Looking for a partner that actually can help you with those is a very good advice, in our view, to truly have you focus on your core business, because that’s what it’s all about. You want to focus as a utility on your, let’s say, value add activities, and not just other things that are almost a necessary evil for that. So, look for that.
And when it comes to connectivity, you should look for a partner that understands e-SIM inside out. It’s a new technology. It’s still under evolution, right? We’re still working on new standards. So, you have to be able to trust your partner to work with you, create a joint roadmap, but also to be able to help you in operational issues because you will come across those when implementing and when deploying those. I would say make sure that you choose your partner, be able to focus on your own core activities while you outsource the rest of the activities to your partner. I think that’s important.
Jeremy Cowan 14:53
And what are some of the key areas of change that you think energy companies need to be aware of. We’ve already had a reference to sunsetting. But I’m sure there’s a lot more that should be said on that and on other areas.
Marco Bijvelds 15:07
Yeah, so I think the sunsetting is obviously a learning point for the industry. And we’ve seen that coming a long time. But still, I think decisions have been made in the past that may not have been the most optimal in hindsight. So, I think that’s a big learning. In that sense, there’s still work to be done over the next few years when the networks will sunset, 2G will sunset in some regions in the US, obviously, we already have seen that. So, we’ve already had the pain. But preparing for that transition is just key. Make sure that you learn from the past, make sure that you’re ready for that, let’s say new deployments. Many of the utilities will have experience now with deploying at large scale. But preparing for that is a different thing, right? So, we were talking e-SIM, e-SIM is a different technology, it’s not fundamentally different in the sense that it’s still establishing the connectivity for a device. But there’s much more to it, because you have to be able to manage your profiles, you have to make sure the device is interoperable. So, there’s a lot of things that you have to think through to be ready for future deployments.
Also, you have to choose the technology for your connectivity, which there are more nowadays than there used to be before. Loic was mentioning NB-IoT, LTE-M. I was mentioning private networks. There’s a variety of technologies you can choose from and let’s say making sure that you’re prepared for that, not just from a technical perspective but also from an operational perspective, is fundamental in being future-proof and being ready for that transition that we’re looking at.
Jeremy Cowan 16:41
Thank you, Marco, and Ioannis to complete the smart metering picture. Can you help us a bit on decentralisation? Specifically, can you explain how decentralised solutions support and foster this energy transition?
Ioannis Vlachos 16:57
Thanks for the question, Jeremy. So, from my perspective, the main barrier for the acceleration of the energy transition nowadays is mainly related to the way that energy markets are currently structured. So regulatory requirements in most countries worldwide requires that small scale flexibility assets such as residential batteries, electric vehicles, heat pumps, and others participate in energy markets only via representation by an aggregator.
Now, considering a more direct market design, where flexible assets – irrespectively of their capacity – can directly bid in the energy market, will minimise their marginal costs, and at the same time will promote and foster the participation of these small-scale distributed energy resources in energy markets. So, there is a clear need of direct participation of assets in markets. And this is a true need for energy markets right now. Also this requirement has been identified and considered to be an overarching principle. In a recent report published by the ENTSO-E (European association for the cooperation of transmission system operators (TSOs) for electricity) and the European DSO associations (E.DSO) representing distributed system operators, that was published in June 2021 (actually, the name of the report is A roadmap on the evolution of the regulatory framework for distributed flexibility), https://www.edsoforsmartgrids.eu/wp-content/uploads/210722_TSO-DSO-Task-Force-on-Distributed-Flexibility_proofread-FINAL-2.pdf where in this report, we see for the first time in a policy document, the term “directly”. So, that the report mentioned that access to all markets for all assets should be either directly or aggregate. So, this is where blockchain technology comes into play.
Blockchain technology, via the concept of digital identities and verifiable credentials, and self-sovereign identities in general provides the necessary tools to allow this direct access of small scale DRs into energy markets. And when we’re talking about, let’s say to explain a little bit this technical jargon, when we’re talking about SSI (self-sovereign identity), self-sovereign identity is a growing paradigm that promotes individual control over identity data, rather than relying on external authorities. This is in contrast to the current paradigm where most exchanges of identity data rely on communication and trust with an external, often centralised authority.
So decentralised identifiers, the IDs and verifiable credentials, are two of the most important components of SSIs. And through the IDs, we can create identifiers that are controlled and generated by individuals organisations, and then can be used to identify any subject such as a non-tangible asset, a customer or an organisation. And, at the same time, verifiable credentials is a secure and most importantly, let’s say, must see verifiable digital credential which respect the standard data model. So, this is why we’re super excited to bring together with Kigen and Kore Wireless the digital identities on the SIM card itself.
Jeremy Cowan 20:09
And if anybody wants to follow up on the report that you mentioned, Ioannis, we will get that link from you and drop it into the transcript. Then people can reference that for themselves.
Coming back to the discussion, what is it about digital identities then that that makes this technology so attractive to actors in the energy ecosystem? And what’s new in this area?
Ioannis Vlachos 20:32
Yeah, great point, Jeremy. I think digital identities may be one of the most disruptive concepts when applied to the energy sector. So, digital identities implemented via this notion of decentralised identifiers, allow assets, systems and internal energy market participants to hold our self-sovereign identities. So, by themselves, SSIs, self-sovereign identities allow any system or any market participant to represent itself in an energy market, in an end-to-end verifiable manner. And the key word here is ‘verifiable’. So this extension allows, for example, assets holding the ID to send an offer for a service, for example, an offer for flexibility service, to a decentralised marketplace, and the receiving end to be in the position to verify in a crypto-graphical way the source of the offer, and that the offer message has not been modified in between by any malicious third party.
So, the biggest challenge here is how you assign digital identities to energy assets, such as, for example, smart meters, or smart inverters in a way that is at the same time secure, but also cost-efficient. And this is where I think we add value via this collaboration between a Kigen, Kore Wireless and Energy Web, because we’re focusing upon how we solve this challenge of assigning digital identities to energy assets in a way that is cost-efficient. And taking also into account the fact that, starting for example from smart meters, that they use and rely on the GSM network for their communication with the back-end systems. How we find a way to include the ID in the SIM card in a straightforward, open and cost-efficient manner.
In a nutshell, Kigen, Kore Wireless and Energy Web developed an open source software kit for embedding digital identities directly into SIM cards and thus to any assets by leveraging, as Loic mentioned at the beginning, IoT SAFE Open Standard (and I’m highlighting the word ‘open’ here) from GSM associates. So, the solution with the close collaboration with OEMs is expected to significantly accelerate the energy transition and democratise and decentralise the way energy markets are currently designed and operate.
Jeremy Cowan 22:57
So, Ioannis, how do decentralised technologies such as Blockchain benefit third party users, and can you give us some examples of how that helps?
Ioannis Vlachos 23:09
Yeah, that’s a great question, Jeremy. I think the public and open architecture of the majority of Blockchain solutions is what will allow any third party to elaborate the benefits that come along with Blockchain. This philosophy of public and open decentralised architecture lies at the core of Energy Web as its most important value. Public and open for a client means no vendor lock-in, while at the same time it allows OEMs to minimise the time to commercialisation.
At Energy Web we were focused on bringing to market three specific solutions in partnership with energy companies around the world since our incorporation back in 2017. So these solution areas represent sectors where decentralised technology can create significant business value for enterprises. And we believe that the decentralised, multi-tenant environments required for these solutions are only possible with public blockchains, open architectures and we see more and more enterprises are ready to embrace them. So, in a nutshell, these solutions are enterprise asset management solutions that is built on the W3C open and administered decentralised identities standard. And, as an example, I can reference to real world implementations that Energy Web has done with a DSO from the Netherlands, where we work together with them to build their identity access management solution. Recently, we launched in California together with California ISO Flex Alert system. Also we can reference here our works with Vodafone as well our work with Kigen and Kore Wireless that we are currently discussing.
Also, a second group of solutions is the so-called Enterprise Data Exchange that enables different combinations of energy companies, prosumers and individual devices such as electric vehicles, residential batteries, etc. to exchange and process granular data in a secure, verifiable and decentralised way. And our third Solutions Group is our green proofs platform, which is our solution focusing on enable next generation traceability for low zero negative carbon supply chain. So, our primary work here is focused on renewable mined cryptocurrency, 24/7 renewable energy monitoring and sustainable aviation fuel. And the development of the solutions heavily rely on digital identities and verifiable credentials, which makes our work with Kigen and Kore Wireless of paramount importance,
Jeremy Cowan 25:53
Ioannis, thank you.
Loic, presumably this model, to engage third parties through a trusted ID exchange, that can be used elsewhere in other sectors can’t it? What other applications can benefit from this kind of thing?
Loic Bonvarlet 26:07
Yeah, Jeremy, definitely. I think, one that often comes to mind for me is the medical space, right? Where today you have also quite a fragmented ecosystem in terms of, you know, platforms sharing information between patients and doctors, as an example, right. And the portability’s fairly poor. I mean, I’m facing this personally, quite recently, for example, to migrate from one set of platform and data to another system. And so, here the ability to say, people getting control of their data, of their medical data, right, and decide with who it’s shared in a very trusted way, by really making sure that sender and recipient are totally identified in a decentralised manner, is really something that I think as they explore the future, and try to aggregate and lower the costs of this type of function, which are today very expensive and very ad hoc on a per country, per provider basis. Right. So I think it’s one example that comes to mind there.
Along those lines, we did a collaboration, for example, that we announced also at MWC (Mobile World Congress 2022), which is really focused around this peer-to-peer use case and peer-to-peer engagement. I control the data, and I control where it’s sent, and I don’t need intermediate and third parties to have any say into that.
Jeremy Cowan 27:30
So, Ioannis, in a few words, how can listeners start using the solution?
Ioannis Vlachos 27:35
Jeremy, in the next few weeks Energy Web will release the software development kit that was co-developed with Kigen and Kore Wireless as an open source library, of course. This will allow any third party, any OEM that would like to leverage IoT SAFE Open GSMA standard to simply download the SDK and use it to assign digital identities to any asset, any energy asset or even any medical assets for example, as Loic mentioned. So, Energy Web is currently working with different OEMs, to port the SDK to different micro-processor architectures, in an effort to minimise the time to commercialisation for the OEMs.
Jeremy Cowan 28:13
And Marco, what’s the next step after that?
Marco Bijvelds 28:16
Yeah, so I think it all starts with a good conversation, right? I mean, this is all about technology and things that we jointly have developed. It’s quite impressive to be perfectly honest. With that said, we need to understand what kind of business problem that we’re trying to solve. So, I think that’s the first conversation that we’ll always have with the customer to see what kind of direction that we need to take. Like I said, we’ve got a seven step approach to go through the customer journey and going from let’s say, the design to actual implementation and sustainment is important to us. The good news is that we’ve done the heavy lifting with the pre-integrated solution that we discussed today. So, I think that’s a very good starting point. But I’m looking forward to have a conversation with the customer to say, ‘Okay, what’s your problem, what we’re trying to solve, and how can we help you with that?’
Jeremy Cowan 28:58
Excellent. Well, gentlemen, I want to thank you all for your expertise, and for sharing your time. Thank you first, Loic ….
Loic Bonvarlet 29:05
Thanks a lot, Jeremy. It was great to talk with you today.
Jeremy Cowan 29:08
And Marco, my thanks to you, too ….
Marco Bijvelds 29:10
Good to be here. Thank you for having me.
Jeremy Cowan 29:12
And finally, it’s been great to have you here too, Ioannis. Thank you.
Ioannis Vlachos 29:16
Thanks for having me, Jeremy. Thank you.
Jeremy Cowan 29:17
Finally, a big shout out to Kigen, our sponsors for this podcast. Plus my thanks, as always, to our worldwide audience.
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