Sparks Electrical News October 2017
• MCCs and motor protection • Energy measurement and supply • Lighting FEATURES
E L E C T R I C A L N E W S
Contractors’ corner | Buyers’ guide | People on the move REGULARS:
ARE YOU READY FOR IoT? A s IoT becomes more prevalent, electrical contractors that change the way they operate, and skill up, will not only stay relevant, but can open up new business opportunities. People have been talking about the brave new world of the Internet of Things (IoT) for years. It has been predicted to be as transformational as the spread of the mobile Internet, and we are seeing IoT transforming the way we live and work. Already, we are seeing IoT systems being used for health status monitoring, intelligent traffic lights easing traffic congestion, and smart meters helping citizens and utilities use resources like energy and water more efficiently.
In fact, utilities are second only to the insurance industry where the IoT use case shows almost immediate benefits, and while much has been said about the role electrical engineers have to play in the IoT-driven future, electricians will also have to invest in new skills in order to remain relevant. As connected power grids become more common, the business model of contractors is in- creasingly being challenged. According to Enrique Birlanga, who is responsible for the EcoXpert Con- nected Power Certification badge from Schneider Electric, smaller contrac- tors who work with small to medium businesses (SMBs) such as restaurants, offices, industries, smaller retail chains and branch offices, typically operate in a highly competitive and price-sensitive market. In an increasingly com- moditised low voltage environment, “it’s a rather traditional business of design, install and go,” he says. “With the IoT, they have opportunities to deliver new, value-added services to customers with higher margins, competitive benefits and a closer relation- ship to their typical SMB customers than in an ‘install and go’ scenario. These additional services are also in higher demand, not least due to cost saving, en- ergy efficiency and monitoring/maintenance demands.” Local IoT networks In South Africa, like the rest of the world, IoT is relatively in its infancy. While common IoT applications have tended to be along the lines of FitBit and driv- ing monitoring to allow underwriters to tailor premiums, local utilities are ac- tively testing connected systems. This is partly as a result of the success of IoT implementations in other countries, and partly because they now have access to a number of IoT networks that have been rolled out locally. MTN Business is one of the companies that has invested in a South African IoT ecosystem. Not only has MTN Business built a nationwide IoT network, it has established an extensive partner portfolio to cover the many industries that will be using IoT in the future. The company has also run the Mind2Machine event for the past three years in order to grow the skills base and ap- plications available. Mariana Kruger, GM for ICT solutions at MTN Business, explains that the focus from a skills perspective has been mainly on the technology side, but that this will change as more IoT applications are implemented. “We are not doing specific upskilling of electricians at the moment, but we will absorb as many local municipality staff in the roll out of new ser- vices in their region as possible. This will be done through our partners,” she adds. Another company that has rolled out an IoT network is Comsol, which is providing its own IoT ecosystem. In addition to the network, Comsol has secured several device distribution agreements in South Africa and has partnered with Actility, an IoT software specialist. Comsol is “in talks” with a “major public sector organisation”, according to Justin Colyn, Ex- ecutive Head of IoT at Comsol, when asked if any electrical utilities were using the Comsol network. New skills for a new world In light of the fact that these IoT networks are opening up new oppor- tunities for utilities and greater efficiencies for everyone connected to the electrical grid, connected power solutions such as smart panels, smart metering and energy management and efficiency systems in the cloud are going to become more common over the next few years. This means that on top of their electrical skills, contractors are going to need essential IT and IoT know-how.
These skills are relatively hard to come by locally at the moment, with few certifications available. Schneider Electric offers the ‘Connected Power’ badge within the awarded EcoXpert partner programme and the SAIEE provides a course on IoT Standards and Applications. Other certifications are available online, but do not offer the classroom environment many people prefer. The EcoXpert partner programme provides tiered competency training paths for “the industry knowledge and skill sets needed to enable smarter buildings, more reliable infrastructures and optimised energy efficiency”. There are five competency tracks with two certification levels: Certified EcoXpert or Master EcoXpert, with specialisations and advanced training on topics
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