• 08 DEC 13
    • 0

    The main force behind the push for a global smart grid: Maintaining corporate market share

    In a just released paper by Prof. Damien Ernst from the University of Liege (December 2013) he argues that the the main force behind the creation of a global electricity grid is to be able to incorporate renewable energy thereby lessening our reliance on fossil fuels. Among other things, Ernst sees the transition towards a global grid as an inevitability but that the globalisation of the electricity commodity will give rise to serious challenges to national power industries. Ernst concludes with the warning that countries relying too much on the global grid for their electricity supply may experience very adverse effects.

    Download the report here.

    Ernst may be right in the original concept for a need for a global electricity grid: incorporating renewable energy sources, but I would argue that the overriding global push for the smart grid (Ernst doesn’t mention the smart grid – but it would likely be an integral part of his envisioned global grid) has little to do with renewable energy or ‘sustainability’ but all to do with corporations seizing the opportunity to improve their market share (and profits). This is achieved by endlessly creating and marketing new smart appliances / gadgets – and then convincing the consuming public that they really do need all these wondrous things.

    All these new smart devices will only be fully ‘smart’ after a national global smart grid is in place with every home having a smart meter which will function as the central device that enables the full wireless communications capability of smart appliances. I argue that this is why there is a frantic push to make smart meters ubiquitous. It is consumerism at its worst and, and as it states in “Take Back Your Power” gives corporations a perilous path directly into our homes.



    1) Japanese Firms Focus on Smart Kitchen Appliances
    Published: December 4, 2013

    TOKYO “” For Japan”s electronics giants, the kitchen is the final frontier.

    Companies like Panasonic and Toshiba are diverting engineers and money away from their TV operations and into developing “smart appliances” after losing out in the living room to cheaper Asian rivals. A fridge that texts pictures to show what is for dinner, a voice-controlled washing machine “” appliances like these are being designed to talk to each other via the cloud to cut energy bills. For now, they are expensive, deterring buyers: A Japan-only Toshiba smart fridge with camera runs to about $2,800 versus less than $800 for a basic model. Yet as more products come on the market and competition cuts prices, global smart appliance sales will rocket to $35 billion by 2020 from just more than $600 million last year, according to the technology intelligence firm Navigant Research. As the industry prepares to descend on Las Vegas next month for C.E.S., the world”s biggest technology trade fair, that is mouth-watering for all electronics makers. But none more than Japan”s. They have been squeezed into billions of dollars of losses in recent years, caught between high manufacturing costs, aggressive competition from the likes of Samsung Electronics and the strong yen, making exports of consumer staples like TVs more expensive. To prosper in the new niche, Japanese companies must not only persuade consumers to shell out for a whole new set of appliances, they will also have to hold their own against the same cheaper Asian rivals that stole their thunder in leisure electronics. “Everyone says having the same brand of goods would be more energy-efficient, but in the end it comes down to the price and function of each product,” said Satomi Wakamatsu, who lives in Hiroshima. She owns a Hitachi refrigerator and washing machine, and an air-conditioner made by Daikin Industries. Ms. Wakamatsu considered buying smart appliances. But she balked when she added up the cost of all-new appliances, in addition to a necessary home energy management system “” a further $2,000 to $3,000. Sales of Japanese companies” energy management systems have been helped by government subsidies designed to stimulate energy efficiency “” but they ended in October. Panasonic sold 20,000 such units between April and September, but said it was unsure whether that pace could be sustained without the subsidy. Toshiba, meanwhile, wants 20 percent of its appliance sales to be from smart goods by the end of fiscal 2014.

    The potential growth of smart goods sales has also stimulated peers in the United States and Europe.

    In South Korea, Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics have rolled out smart appliances and have plans to go further afield: Samsung recently showed off its line at the luxury department store Harrods in London, including a fridge fitted with an LCD panel to keep track of groceries and suggest recipes. “If you see the recent trends in the appliances market, made-in-Japan products are increasingly threatened by their Korean and Chinese counterparts with enhanced technologies and competitive prices,” said Jamie Ko, head of consumer appliances at the research firm Euromonitor.

    2) Sony files patent for ‘SmartWig’

    Sony has filed a patent application for “SmartWig”, as firms jostle for the lead in the wearable technology sector. It says the SmartWig can be worn “in addition to natural hair”, and will be able to process data and communicate wirelessly with other external devices. According to the filing, the SmartWig can help navigate roads and collect information such as blood pressure. Google and Samsung are among the firms that have launched products in wearable technology – seen as a key growth area. “Wearable gadgets are definitely going to be one of the big areas of growth over the next two years,” Andrew Milroy, an analyst with consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, told the BBC. “And Sony – which is trying to regain some of the sheen it has lost in recent years – clearly understands that and wants to play a major role in the sector.” The Japanese firm said the wig could be made from horse hair, human hair, wool, feathers, yak hair, buffalo hair or any kind of synthetic material. At the same time, the communication interface and sensors placed in the wig are at least partly covered by parts of the wig in order to be hidden from sight during use. It said that as a result, the device has the potential to become “very popular” as it could be used as a “technically intelligent item and fashion item at the same time”. The usage of a wig has several advantages that, compared to known wearable computing devices, include a significantly increased user comfort and an improved handling of the wearable computing device.”

    Potential uses

    Sony listed various potential uses of the SmartWig in its filing, including helping blind people navigate roads. It said that a small video camera or a sensor on the wig could help to provide the position and the location of the wearer. A remote user can then use the images provided and send vibration commands through the network and navigate the wig user manually to a desired destination. “Although navigation systems based on vibration motors have been widely introduced, a navigation system integrated into a wig… is so far not known,” the firm said. A further potential improvement of the wig may use ultrasound waves to detect objects around a user. Sony said the gaming industry or “any type of virtual reality appliance” could also be an “interesting field” of use for the device, though it did not provide any details. It could also have uses in the healthcare sector, as a combination of sensors can help collect information such as temperature, pulse and blood pressure of the wearer. “The system can detect these kinds of data naturally and transmit them to the server computer,” it said. The device can also be used during presentations where a wearer can “move to the next presentation slide or back to the preceding presentation slide by simply raising his/her eyebrows”. A Sony spokesperson told the BBC that the firm had not decided on any plans for commercial production of the SmartWig yet.

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