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NextDrive Finds an Ally in AWS, Entering Japanese Energy Market with Smart Meter Gateways and Energy Management Solutions

2020 / 08 / 31
▲Michihiro Konagai, NextDrive Product Director (Credit: TechOrange)

On a hot summer day, have you ever wanted to turn on the air conditioner all day but at the same time, worry about your electricity bill going off the charts? You wouldn’t be troubled by it if you made good use of Internet of Energy (IoE) and Cloud technology. Through the help of “Energy Gateway”, you can access your household electricity consumption data from your smart meters in real-time. Moreover, the “Energy Gateway” can connect to other smart home devices to improve their energy efficiency and your lifestyle with IoE and cloud services.

NextDrive, a Taiwanese company dedicated to energy optimization via the Internet of Energy, released its latest energy management system and the self-developed IoE energy gateway (Cube J) in conjunction with Amazon Web Services (AWS). The NextDrive Cube J can manage household electricity consumption directly by connecting to smart meter-connected home appliances. Besides basic functions such as monitoring and managing the electricity bill, users can also remotely control home appliances with their smartphones, monitor and record electricity consumption, and receive energy conservation advice from the energy management system while allowing “money-saving” and “smart home management” to be right at your fingertips.

With the core technology and derived smart services, NextDrive has successfully broke-through to several Japanese energy companies and solar energy industries and is now preparing to enter the Australian energy market.

How Does NextDrive Gain a Foothold in the Japanese Market While the Smart Meter Technology Development Becomes a Significant Prospect?

Due to the electricity pricing that was influenced by the Great East Japan Earthquake, which led to a rapid energy transition, Japan has the most advanced development of smart meters in the world. Currently, Japan has unified the Wi-SUN technology as the communication standard for smart meters, which has better penetration than ordinary Wi-Fi. It is expected that smart meters will be popularized in homes across the country in 2022.

With regard to smart meters, in addition to reporting power consumption data back to the power company, it can also connect to smart home devices through a gateway.  In the past, there were no gateways suitable for connecting smart meters and smart home devices in the Japanese market. Therefore, NextDrive incorporated the Wi-SUN protocol into their gateway to suit Japanese smart meter specifications. It successfully attracted several major power companies to the table and have had since formed an alliance. Then in 2017, NextDrive established its subsidiary in Japan.

Intuitive Energy-Saving: AWS Updates Electricity Consumption Data Every 30 Seconds

NextDrive focuses mainly on hardware technology and the expansion of the Japanese market. Therefore, to reach other international markets, it will require considerable resources. In comes AWS, a world-renowned cloud computing giant that can consistently provide high-quality technical support and maintenance services across the globe naturally becomes NextDrive’s first choice in an attempt to break into the international market. To complement, NextDrive developed two applications to coincide with AWS services to monitor and manage users’ home energy consumption. Of the two, Ecogenie, is designed for smart home scenario deployment. It provides electricity data in 30-second intervals while presenting users’ energy consumption in a dashboard view. Users no longer need to wait for their electricity bills to arrive to find out their costs have gone through the roof. Through real-time 30-second monitoring, they can take immediate actions to turn off unnecessary energy-intensive devices. Users can set their desired criteria so Ecogenie can remotely control the devices when the amount of electricity consumption exceeds the set thresholds.

Jumping on the Bandwagon of the Post-FIT Era, NextDrive Designs Energy Management System for Solar Energy Retail Businesses 

NextDrive Product Director Konagai Michihiro suggests that solar energy prices will significantly decrease due to Japan’s termination of FIT (Feed-In Tariff). Wholesale price will fall from 40 yen to under 10 yen per kWh, resulting in reduced momentum in the solar energy market. Therefore, solar energy companies are striving to transform from hardware-oriented to service-oriented business models.

In the future, the solar business model will be the same as the telecom tariff of our zero-cost mobile phones. Imagine, with a contract, the solar panels will be set up for free and the user need only pay the solar energy used according to the tariff to enjoy sustainable and environmentally friendly energy. On the other hand, energy companies are responsible for the operation costs of the solar panels to ensure they reach maximum power generation. As a result, systems that can intelligently detect real-time status of solar panels will have high commercial value in Japan.

NextDrive sees this business opportunity in the solar retail market and launched its new generation of “EcoTrans Solar Energy Management Solution”.  The solution uses data gateways with its own SIM card to stably collect and upload solar energy generation and consumption data. It also provides an integrated IoE energy management platform to help solar energy companies easily manage devices’ statuses, power data and user information to track and optimize their operations.

Standing on the Shoulders of the AWS Giant, NextDrive found their Godlike Partner to Enter Japanese Market

For NextDrive, breaking into the Japanese market requires great technical skills and business determination, especially when the Japanese market values sophisticated and high-quality services. Therefore, providing users with consistently high-quality technical services have become the key, and AWS is the godlike teammate for NextDrive to enter the Japanese market.

NextDrive partnered AWS cloud services to build the IoE platform because its tools can assist in rapid development and its resources have automatic expansion features. It does not require dedicated management and thus is suitable for startups with limited manpower. Besides, there are considerable social communities to consult in Taiwan’s forum.

AWS’ rich technical resource is also one of the main reasons NextDrive is partnering with AWS, as it provides abundant online resources for subscribers. The development team can pay attention to what new features AWS launches at any time and evaluate whether it can be integrated with the existing technical services, bringing added benefits of the technology and services. NextDrive Cloud Team points out that AWS stands by startups. Their representatives would regularly assist in the company’s internal technical architecture inspection, provide adjustment suggestions to avoid failure in development or help improve data analytic efficiencies to further reduce unnecessary cloud service fees.

Choosing the Right Tools to Efficiently Establish Microservices and Flexible Deployment 

Whether it is Ecogenie or EcoTrans, both are for users to view electricity consumption data, or back-end management interface for power companies, solar equipment agents and other partners to view energy data information. They both are built on the NextDrive IoE (Internet of Energy) platform. The IoE platform is composed of services such as Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS), Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), AWS Lambda, Elastic Load Balancing (ELB), etc. The AWS system provides NextDrive’s IoE platform with end-to-end observability, security and other basic management necessary measures, allowing NextDrive to focus on developing applications and other innovative services.

At the same time, NextDrive chose to build microservices through Amazon API Gateway and AWS Lambda. The service can be established within a few minutes and a test sample can be efficiently produced.

From a technical standpoint, the convenience of rapid deployment and maintenance are key technical evaluations. Every year, AWS invests significantly in research to keep services constantly updated and optimized. In the past, before using Lambda, you had to enter Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to paste the code, and then restart the server to execute.  Now through Lambda development, it can be modified, updated and executed at any time to speed up the development schedule. Using Lambda, the initial setup takes about 5 minutes to complete, and the subsequent deployment only takes a few seconds. Therefore, the continuous research and improvement of a reliable technology partner like AWS can help us flourish and remain competitive for years to come.

At the moment, NextDrive has achieved good results in the preliminary tests and development. After Japan Electric Power Company completes the concept-proofing stage, NextDrive products will be able to deploy into official field operations. NextDrive expects AWS to take advantage of the dynamic and flexible expansion of cloud resources to meet the power data transmission needs of millions of users while NextDrive can collect big data from related equipment and usage behaviors, which are essential for creating multiple service applications in the future.

The original article was published in TechOrange

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Founded in 2013, NextDrive had the vision of creating a lifestyle that “optimizes the consumption of every power” via the Internet of Energy (IoE) technologies.

Based on science and technology, NextDrive supplies software and hardware consolidation and cloud services and enhances the advantages of communication technology to enable the implementation of modular platform architectures in power devices.