First up, I should highlight that this was my first business focussed conference I’ve gone to. I’ve attended SAP TechEd numerous times and followed the online presence of Sapphire/ASUG last year; but coming to a conference where everyone is walking around in suits and “deep dive” refers more to looking into screen shots of future functionality (with no code) was definitely different for me so this blog will be possibly bringing more a different perspective than others who attended this event. i.e. I found the industry content the most fascinating rather than the product announcements (which are also important of course but more my day role).
Secondly, I intended to write this up closer to the event but you know how it is with work and life sometimes. Oh well, at least I published it before Sapphire Now/ASUG…
So I’ll cover the overall trip experience (for historic purposes only so feel free to skip to the content section), then provide you an exec summary of the content and key messages/questions. Finally I’ll end with my thoughts on whether we are at the point of a revolution in the Energy Industry.
Welcome to Mannheim, Germany
Living in Tasmania, Australia; there are quite a few hops to get to Mannheim and the whole trip is over 24 hours from door to door. That said, flights were good, I slept the necessary amount to still be conscious and once I stepped off the impressively fast but smooth ICE train from Frankfurt Airport to Mannheim, I was pumped to see what Mannheim and the surroundings had to offer.
The weather was superb and my first trek was to view the parks and various streets of Mannheim. I won’t go into detail, but once I’d seen the parks and the old Uni; I discovered that on a Sunday…Mannheim is a pretty quiet place – so after some advice from fellow Mentor Matthias Steiner – I took off to Heidelberg to walk up to the castle.
I stepped off the train not knowing where I was exactly but after wandering around lost for 30 minutes, I found a landmark I knew and set off towards the Castle (for reference, I could not see the castle from the Train station so don’t hassle me). As I said, the day was superb so I shouldn’t have been surprised to see nearly every man and woman, their family and their dog was out that day. For me, that was great as it just added to the atmosphere. To cut a long story short; I thoroughly recommend the walk.
After finding the train station again (it was almost where I thought), I headed back home and discovered after some dinner that bed was a great idea.
Future Energy Centre (FEC)
The FEC is an SAP Research lab located in Karlsruhe, Germany which is dedicated to energy research. Apart from a number of very cluey people, it includes a demo/prototype area to highlight some of the research they are doing. As part of the conference, the FEC was celebrating their grand opening that very week.
Although opening the next day, SAP were generous enough to realise that visitors from utilities from Asia Pacific don’t show up every day, and allowed a small number of Asia Pacific people including myself a sneak preview.
Now I have to admit I was looking forward to this visit. Having recently seen some of the work going down in Brisbane SAP Research at Mastering Technologies in Sydney and being suitably impressed, I wanted to see what SAP were doing in the field of Utilities.
I don’t want to give the whole story away for future visitors, but some of the projects they are investigating included:
- Electric Mobility (which by the way, the utility industry is not referring to iPhones/Androids when they say this but Electric Vehicles and the infrastructure that goes with that),
- Energy storage solutions,
- Efficiency programs,
- and of course smart grids which included demand/response (yes – like mobility above, Utilities have ignored common IT terminology like DR and used it for their own purposes).
This YouTube video promotes it pretty well.
The only unfortunate thing about the visit was the diversity of the group that attended. It would have been fascinating to discuss specifics with the research leads at the FEC, but having competing companies and different focuses in companies meant that this was not really possible. Next time hopefully…
So after a traditional German “Pub” meal in Heidelberg, which seemed to incorporate extremely large plates of salad, potent Garlic Soup, way too much meat for one person to consume and of course, great beer – it was time for bed to get ready for the conference.
Side Note: Bacon
Now why write about Bacon in the middle of this blog. Well firstly, why wouldn’t you; but secondly, the Enterprise Geeks experienced Australian Bacon recently, commenting about the similarities to Ham; and having lived in the US, I know what they are talking about.
So the point of this side note is to set the benchmark for Breakfast Bacon…The Bacon at the Dorint Hotel in Mannheim at breakfast has to be the best bacon I have ever tasted. But I digress…
Conference Time – Executive Summary
First impressions… Well apart from the fact that a Mentor shirt stood out pretty well amongst all the attendees wearing Suits (note to self – don’t bother packing Jeans to Business Conferences), was that this appeared to be a well-run event. Obviously the scale was not on par with Sapphire or TechEd but that didn’t seem to stop the coordinators trying to make this an impressive event. Keynotes were well thought out with the stand out presenter for me being Joschka Fischer (former German Minister of Foreign Affairs and Former Vice Chancellor). The party night had a novel idea that they should adopt at TechEd and the like – drinks and entertainment till 1am in the morning including gate crashers like fellow mentor Gregor Wolf who just happened to be in Waldorf enabling a mini wolfpack formation for the night. Party on!
In terms of the content:
- HANA was obviously big with new product names announced (main one for me was Smart Meter Analytics for Utilities – previously known as part of what was called Raptor),
- MDUS integration had a strong focus in discussions (this refers to prebuilt integration with SAP that an increasing number of certified partners have implemented to integrate head-end systems that manage AMI/smart meters in order to simplify AMI/Smart Meter processes,
- The research projects going on at the FEC and other SAP Research labs,
- Lots of great customer presentations from across the globewhich included both regulated and deregulated utilities (what British Gas has going on sounds awesome),
- SAP’s Energy Data Management had been undergoing some serious internal benchmark testing of AMI scenarios and been proven to linearly scale (with lots and lots of infrastructure tuning) to 10 million customers (with 15 minute intervals between reads)
There were obviously many analysts or suitable analyst types providing their predictions on where the energy revolution (or evolution) is going. Some of the key themes behind their arguments included:
- Impact of Carbon Changes (including Government enforced changes)
- Nuclear viability after recent events (in some cases it is still the only viable option today)
- Impact of China
- Future of renewable energy (including future pricing of Solar Panels)
- Impact of Smart Grids
- E-Mobility – Remembering that Electric Cars are one big battery than can be used to power the house in times of peak network load and imagine 20 years from now everyone coming home and charging their cars at the same time (in short, won’t work too well currently).
- The rate of growth in some (and many would say most) countries (China, India, etc) and how to sustain a reliable grid.
- The price of energy – It will continue to go up, but the prediction is that with AMI, price will become much more variable in the future.
- The role of standards (there are currently so many)
So is it a Revolution?
Well after hearing many industry experts, and seeing the discrepancies in many people’s thoughts, be it from fact or passionate viewpoint – the one piece of information that was clear to me was not, “We are in an Energy Revolution”, but “We need to be within an Energy Revolution!”
One problem is there is no standard for a smart grid today (or maybe I should say there are many standards). Systems are being built ahead of completely understanding where we are going (understandably of course) and the technologies such as Solar Panels, Home Area Networks that communicate with your washing machine/fridge and Smart Meter are expensive until a standard exist. Plus add government legislations that are getting in the way of anyone making these things standards. Some countries/states being deregulated mean that retailers cannot easily leverage meter functionality to enable their customers as they do not own or control the meters. Lots of barriers.
Whether or not Nuclear is an option or not (I won’t weigh in on that argument), China’s growth and hence demand for energy is mind-blowing. And if it’s one country that can make renewable affordable for the rest of us; then possibly their demand will drive enough R&D and standardisation to potential partly solve this for the rest of us (no pressure China).
In terms of customers, although we probably don’t care about having too deep a relationship with our utility; with prices going up, we may start to need to. At least if customers learn that by just switching out those really inefficient light bulbs with a more expensive up front light bulb – that would be a great start.
The easiest way to think about lowering your bill is your utility offers you the right Time-of-Use tariff with possibly a demand-response option (for times when grid demand is at its greatest and the utility wants you to consume less please) and you take control of your usage. You may go out and then see the benefit of storage and Solar Panels and start to only consume the cheapest energy price and rely internally during the rest of the periods, potentially selling to your neighbour when you go away on holidays! Of course, making this incredible complex scenario appear simple for all parties involved will be key (one of the insightful messages that was mentioned at the conference).
And my last point – just because maybe your country/state is not the pumping out energy and carbon like California or China doesn’t mean you can wait to see what everyone else does to improve things. Investment in R&D and collaborations appears to be still the way forward so that we can start this revolution ASAP.
Oh – And please start making more sexier and affordable Electric Vehicles…
So that’s it
So as I pointed out at the start, this conference not only brought me up to speed with much of the upcoming SAP and partner eco-system solutions coming up; but made me think quite a lot.
And whatever the answer to the evolution/revolution question, I’m definitely excited to be in the Utility industry right now.