Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Cleantech and M2M

There is a very good column in the latest M2M Magazine about RFID and wireless sensor networking.

Machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies (of which wireless sensor networking is one flavor) is a relatively unheralded area of innovation, one that has caught a lot of attention in the cleantech investing world because of its potential for tangible efficiency gains and near-term implementation. Essentially, the argument goes, if you can move intelligence further out into the edges -- and increase the flow of information -- for a large complex operation (be it a manufacturing facility, an electricity distribution network, or what have you), you can introduce more flexibility and finer levels of control. This in turn helps reduce waste, because you can have systems that are more responsive and accurate.

One example of this would be the "smart building". By deploying numerous remote sensors throughout a building you can monitor temperature, lighting, security, etc., and thus set up an automated system that deploys electricity when and where it's needed -- instead of setting an entire building's thermostat at one temperature for the entire workday, to use one very narrow example. This saves electricity, and thus can save significant cost for the building owner. Other applications can be found in efficient manufacturing, smart metering, environmental monitoring, etc., and etc. (the list goes on), many of which have direct cleantech benefits in addition to hard cash savings.

But to get this system of smart, decentralized decision-making to work, you need to have an M2M communications network that can handle all of the quite significant data flow. Harbor Research calls this the "Pervasive Internet," and it is old hat to a lot of mainstream telecom/ tech investors, but cleantech investors are seeing a wide range of applications in our areas of interest as well.

When you see mention of excitement about the "automated home" or the "smart grid," know that somehow all of these devices need to talk with each other, and cleantech investors should be looking for the additional angles of value which these technologies can unlock. It won't be a "winner take all" market, and there are a lot of competing standards and technologies being developed, but there can be some interesting plays, and also M2M technology can play an important role in enabling other clean technologies as well.


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