More Resources, More Problems

Danielle Beurteaux

This is the second of a two-part series on resource volatility. As noted in the first post, globalization has created an environment of resource volatility. This post, with numbers 11 through 20 on the list, describes resources that are more stable than the previous 10. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t turmoil, whether that’s environmental concerns in Indonesia’s palm oil production industry, or community organization for water rights in Chile. And, of course, whatever China does, the markets follow.

Top resources and trends

11. Natural Gas

According to the International Energy Agency, most natural gas comes from Russia, the United States, Canada, Qatar, and Iran, and the countries that use the most are the U.S., Russia, China, and Iran. There are sufficient reserves of natural gas, again according to the IEA’s projections, that should last past the year 2040. Liquefied natural gas, which is produced mostly by Qatar, with Australia set to overtake Malaysia for second place, has had a flat market recently. There isn’t the demand to keep up with increased production, so liquefied natural gas producers are looking for new markets, like cruise lines, to grow demand.

12. Tin

Most of the world’s tin comes from China and Indonesia. The tin market tanked last year because of less demand and lots of tin, although it did rally in July and then improve earlier this year, mostly because Indonesia is exporting less and easing the flood of tin on the market.

13. Gold

It seems like everyone’s crazy for gold right now. The precious metal is often perceived as a safer investment than other asset classes, and it’s up 20% this year. Famed investor George Soros just bought $264 million worth of shares in Barrick Gold. The Toronto-based gold-mining company is the world’s largest. Gold prices bumped down a bit while the market waited on the Federal Reserve’s meeting minutes, but some are saying gold will soon recover – and then some.

14. Nickel

Russia, Canada, and New Caledonia are the largest producers of nickel. Most is used to make stainless steel. Like several other commodities we’ve examined, there is more production than demand of nickel at the moment, which has led to depressed prices. China is a big consumer of nickel for stainless steel, and the country is using less because of a slowing real estate market.

15. Beef

The global demand for beef is up, but production is down due to a variety of factors. One is Australia’s decreased production due to drought conditions, which will mean 300,000 tons less beef for export this year. As Australia is a favored trading partner of the U.S., that will affect the American beef market. A recent study from Radobank predicts that China will increase live cattle imports for domestic processing, and Brazil will enter the U.S. market as well.

16. Wheat

It’s a good year for wheat. North American wheat production is doing well, although levels are down from the previous year, with five percent less planted in the U.S. and six percent less in Canada. According to the most recent USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report, total U.S. wheat supplies and use are up six percent and seven percent, respectively. Globally, the report projects a two percent increase in wheat supplies, and consumption will increase, too.

17. Iron Ore

Earlier this year, the iron ore market jumped, reportedly because of the Chinese government’s moves to help along the country’s economy. Things have settled down since then, with recent trading sending the per ton price downwards 22.9% from its high in April, which seems to be due to China’s increased crude steel production and also the government’s stopping speculative trading. They’ve also committed to transportation infrastructure projects, but there is still too much iron ore compared to demand.

18. Copper

As with iron ore, China’s announcement that it would be investing in transportation infrastructure affected the price of copper recently. This is likely a welcome piece of news, as copper had been trading at the lowest levels since March 2009. Output and demand are both projected for small increases this year. Chile has the largest open pit mine and the largest global reserves of copper, but it’s been facing difficulties in recent years including lack of water, which is essential for mining, and local community resistance.

19. Palm oil

Palm oil is a global big business to the tune of $50 billion, which is projected to increase to $88 billion by 2020. It’s in almost everything these days because it’s inexpensive, stable, and can be used for many applications. (It’s not always listed on ingredient labels as palm oil).  Most is produced in Malaysia. It’s also a bête noire of environmentalists – it’s linked to deforestation, the recent massive forest fires in Indonesia which were set, it’s thought, to clear land for plantations, and lost habitat for orangutans and increased worries about their extinction.

20. Aluminum

Aluminum rose overall in 2015, but took a dive in the last few months of the year. Market-watchers are hoping that China’s announcement that it will reduce aluminum output will help energize the market once oversupply is balanced. But one of the world’s biggest producers, Alcoa, is reorganizing, which could be an indication that the company is preparing for an era of depressed prices, despite continued healthy demand.

Digital transformation is affecting different industries at different speeds and on different scales. IDC reveals how in The Internet of Things and Digital Transformation: A Tale of Four Industries.

Comments

Connected Fleets Save Money

Barbara Flügge

Something unexpected began happening in journalist Mike Esposito’s inbox. Extra emails were demanding his attention, but they weren’t written by people.  His newly leased car was reminding him about its upkeep.

Esposito, who writes for Auto DeaIer Today, noted that among other matters, his vehicle “tells me when I’m low on fuel, when the tire pressure drops and what the outside temperature is.”

Like cars in many government fleets, Esposito’s car is “smart” due to Internet connectivity. It contains telematics–devices including a global positioning system (GPS)–that are part of the car’s operating system. Telematics are also part of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Connected fleet ecosystem

These days, IoT objects containing sensors often connect vehicles to the Internet and, in the case of fleets, to each other.

Esposito’s car can send him notes, because telematics let one machine (the car) share information with another machine (his computer).

Machine-to-machine communication is one part of an ecosystem with the Internet at its centre. The sensors in vehicles with telematics also can connect to parts of their environment–including roadway warning systems–which also contain IoT sensors.

Connected cars produce much data, including information about how carefully people drive them. A privately owned connected car might send this data to an insurance company, which would use it to adjust driver rates.

In contrast, data from public sector fleets would travel to the digital systems of the municipalities, central governments or authorities (such as ports) they serve. This information would include availability for use and maintenance issues in addition to driver care.

Many kinds of vehicles may be included in public sector fleets, including boats, grounds maintenance equipment, motorbikes, trucks, UAVs (drones), and warehouse forklifts.

Connecting fleets to correct problems

Retrofitting vehicles for connectivity or buying new vehicles with factory-installed telematics is expensive. But fleet connectivity provides payback in a number of ways. To understand why organisations would develop these fleets, it helps to consider some actual examples.

Traffic congestion in a mountain resort. Mountain sports, glamorous celebrity lifestyles, and fresh air are among the attractions of Aspen, Colorado. But the city is so popular that it is choking on auto traffic from commuters, residents, and tourists.

Government Fleet magazine reports that Aspen is considering a plan to create a quiet, low-pollution transit system. It would be a connected fleet of mopeds, on-demand shuttles, buses and self-driving mini-vans. The plan also includes improving traffic flow on downtown streets and providing lockers for commuters.

School bus delays. The Chesapeake, Virginia, public school district received many complaints about bus inefficiency in the 2015-2016 school year. Local TV station WAVY reports that the district is responding by equipping each school bus with a GPS and automatic vehicle location system.

Smartport. Truck drivers traveling to the Port of Hamburg in northern Germany no longer have to access many message boards throughout the container port to get updated on traffic and bridge conditions as well as parking availability.

According to tech publisher ZDNet, the port now connects truckers to get current information through a mobile app made possible by a digital platform.

The platform, which is equipped with IoT-solution software, gathers and analyzes huge volumes of data. The IoT software connects to the port’s traffic management system as well as the telematics of trucks visiting the port. This provides a real-time picture of traffic flow.

IoT traffic tracking solutions

IoT software solutions for connected fleets provide government organizations with insights into fleet management, logistics and delivery, insurance telematics (such as monitoring driver-related events), and vehicle diagnostics.

Fleet management solutions include tracking vehicles in real time, monitoring the health of vehicles, and analysing fuel consumption.

Diagnostics involve analysing trouble codes, providing alerts based on vehicle events, and predicting driving performance. One of the logistics matters that solutions analyze concerns arrival times and routing.

IoT solutions help the public sector increase productivity without increasing facilities. ZDNet notes that container turnover at the Port of Hamburg was nine million units in 2014 and likely will double by 2024.

Speaking to the magazine, Hamburg Port Authority representative Sascha Westermann said, “It’s not possible to build more roads. It takes a long time and there’s no space.”

Westermann, who leads IT traffic management for the authority, told ZDNet, “We need smart solutions. IT solutions.”

Year of the connected fleet?

Automobile technology reporter Mike Esposito says he thinks 2017 finally marks the “official arrival” of connected cars. It’s estimated, he says, that 60% to 80% of the cars in which manufacturers have installed telematics will sell this year.

Esposito predicts that “smaller, less expensive cars” will comprise 75% of connected car sales by 2022.

As prices decrease, it’s likely that more public-sector fleets will become connected. The year of the connected fleet is coming soon.

To learn more about SAP Leonardo and our digital innovations, download the “IoT Imperative white paper for the public sector.”

This article originally appeared on Cities Today.

Comments

Barbara Flügge

About Barbara Flügge

Barbara Flügge leads smart cities and regions efforts at SAP. As a thought leader, she advises executives, forward thinkers, and innovation leaders in this area. She dedicates her activities to entire ecosystems beocming cities, ports, and mega events in digital and sustainable transformation. Barbara is a strong believer of innovation and digitization as a public good for everyone. She works on global scale and has in depth knowledge in public sector, automotive, manufacturing, telecommunications, and many other industries. Barbara is a recognized speaker, editor,and author.

Why Australians Pay The Highest Power Prices In The World

Gavin Mooney

This is the second in a series of three posts looking at the hot topic of Australian power prices:

  1. Do Australians really pay the highest power prices in the world?
  2. An explanation for the high power prices in Australia (this post)
  3. A look at what can be done about the high power prices in Australia

In Part 1 we established that – while there are a few different ways to compare the data – Australia does have pretty much the most expensive electricity in the world. The price increases in the last decade have been significant, more than doubling according to the Consumer Price Index.

The question now is why prices have risen so much, when Australia is blessed with vast coal and gas reserves and huge renewable energy potential?

First, we need to look at the components of a typical residential electricity bill.

  • Wholesale: Effectively the cost to generate electricity.
  • Network: The charges for delivery of energy via the poles and wires from the point of generation (power stations) to the point of consumption (homes and businesses).
  • Retail: Charges levied by the consumer’s chosen retailer for selling electricity.
  • Federal environment: This includes items such as the large scale renewable energy target and subsidies for feed in tariffs.
  • Metering: These charges only apply in Victoria to fund the state-mandated roll out of smart meters.

These components have all contributed different amounts to the rising energy prices. A September 2017 report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) identified and ranked the source components of power bill increases over the last decade by how much they had each contributed:

  1. Network charges (41%)
  2. Retail costs and margins (24%)
  3. Wholesale costs (19%)
  4. Green schemes (16%)

Let’s now look at these one by one in more detail as well as the effects of renewable energy.

1. Network charges

Investment in the electricity network has been the primary driver in power bill increases for some time. 

The way the network companies make their money is by earning a certain rate of return on their asset base. As the size of the asset base increases, so do revenues. A revenue cap is set by the regulator every five years, dictating how much the (natural monopoly) networks can spend on building and maintenance. The end consumers foot the bill for this, even if the spend wasn’t needed. This has turned out to be the case in Australia.

Investment decisions were based on forecasts projecting that demand for electricity would continue to rise. The forecasts were wrong – demand has flatlined and declined since about 2009, mainly due to increased rooftop solar and energy efficiency improvements in household appliances. Consumers may also have reacted to higher energy prices. (As a side note – demand may increase again if there is widespread adoption of electric vehicles in Australia.)

2015 Senate enquiry found that there had been significant overinvestment in networks far beyond what was required, especially in the government-owned companies in NSW and QLD. This has been termed network “gold plating”.

2. Retail costs and margins

Retail costs have also risen. This is the part of a power bill that several investigations have found is the hardest to monitor, and the least transparent to consumers. 

There are a few different reasons for the increases in retail costs.

Finding the best offer
The market is characterised by very wide price dispersion, meaning a consumer can save hundreds of dollars by moving from the worst to the best offer. It is also complex, making it hard to compare rates and find the best offers. Private comparison websites do not include all market offers, while the websites offered by the Australian Energy Regulator and the Victorian government do not provide the tools customers need to differentiate between offers. A Grattan Institute study in March 2017 found the system was so complicated that many consumers did not understand what savings they could make and just gave up.

The Thwaites review in August 2017 found Victorian households are paying on average 21% more for their electricity than the cheapest market offer available. Nearly a quarter of customers could save $500 or more by switching to the best available offer.

Punishing loyal customers
Consumers are often attracted by the deep discounts of a retailer’s initial offer, only to slip unknowingly onto a much smaller discount or a costly standing offer a year or two later. AGL Energy chief executive Andy Vesey admitted last year that big power companies were guilty of punishing their most loyal customers in this way, but said subsequently AGL was abandoning the practice.

Retailer profit margins
Profit margins have also been in the spotlight recently, with a Grattan Institute study finding retailers’ profit margins in Victoria were around 13% – higher than in other retail sectors, and more than double the margin that regulators considered fair when they set retail electricity prices. The study concluded that Victorians would save about $250 million a year if the profit margin of electricity retailers fell to match that of other retail businesses. The companies rejected this, saying they have been forced to spend more on marketing due to increased competition.

Failure of competition
Competition in electricity retailing hasn’t delivered what was promised: lower prices for consumers. The failure appears to be worst in Victoria, the state with the most retailers and the longest experience of deregulation.

The market is highly concentrated. Despite there being 25 energy retailers in Victoria, three players (Origin, AGL and Energy Australia) command a market share of over 70%. The next two largest players, taking the total market share to around 90%, are vertically integrated, making it difficult for others to compete.

3. Wholesale charges

Network charges may have been the primary driver of power bill increases over the last decade, but they have now levelled off. More recently, it is the cost of electricity generation that has been the biggest contributor to rising electricity prices. In the past year or so some states have seen increases of over 100%.

There are two main reasons for the increases in wholesale costs: generator bidding behaviour and the soaring price of gas.

Generator power
With the recent closures of the Northern and Hazelwood coal plants in the last year, the gap between supply and demand at peak times has tightened. The market is therefore now far more susceptible to wholesale price surges if a generator breaks down (not uncommon, given Australia’s ageing fleet of coal generators) or an operator decides to withhold their electrons from the market until demand rises. In each state, the two or three principal generators command a market share of 70% or more, giving them enough clout to swing the market.

Indeed, generator market power was clearly seen in Queensland recently with two generators having two thirds of capacity and prices spiking. When the Queensland Government directed its generators to tone down their bidding, prices immediately reduced significantly.

The rise of gas
The second reason for the sudden increase in wholesale costs is much higher gas prices. As supply has tightened, natural gas fired power plants are increasingly being called upon to meet demand. As illustrated in the diagram below, prices are set in five-minute intervals, determined by the price of the most expensive generator required. At 4:25 this was $38, set by Generator 5. Settlement is done in half hour blocks and the spot price for the half hour is determined as the average of the prices for the six five-minute intervals.

As the most expensive fuel that we rely on to create electricity to meet our needs, gas is increasingly determining the wholesale price that generators are paid. Gas generation now sets the wholesale price around a third of the time in South Australia.

Why is gas going up?
The reason for the rising gas prices is more mysterious. Australia has a lot of gas, so much in fact that it is expected to become the world’s largest exporter by 2020. Yet it is cheaper to buy Australian gas in Japan than it is in Australia and AEMO is already forecasting a shortfall in domestic gas supply.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims noted “International prices are at all-time lows; Australian gas prices are at all-time highs.” High local prices appear to be the result of so-far inexplicable behaviour by exporters, selling gas at lower prices on the export spot market than they could achieve by selling the gas locally. Australians are effectively subsidising loss-making exports. Or it could be down to a cartel controlling Australian gas.

An ACCC inquiry into the east coast gas market identified three causes:

  1. The introduction of the export LNG projects changed gas flows and domestic prices.
  2. Oil prices fell faster and further than some thought possible, curtailing investment in gas exploration and development.
  3. Regulatory uncertainty and exploration moratoria have significantly limited or delayed the potential for new gas supply.

4. Green schemes

Responsible for about one sixth of the electricity price rises in the last decade, green schemes include:

  • The bipartisan renewable energy target
  • Solar feed-in tariffs that pay consumers for power sent into the grid.
  • Some programs designed to boost energy efficiency, mostly through the use of better light bulbs and appliances.

The cost of green schemes is not transparent: it is smeared over all electricity consumers and can appear costless to some. But they do cost consumers, often inequitably as those with solar panels are being subsidised by those who do not have them.

Is renewable energy to blame?

No. Well, maybe partly.

Renewable energy has increased significantly over the last decade and now provides around one fifth of Australia’s energy needs. It is an easy target and often blamed in sweeping statements as the sole reason for power price rises without an appreciation of the finer details explained above.

The Renewable Energy Target has helped reduce power bills and will continue to do so, according to the government’s own modelling as well as analysis by energy market experts ROAM Consulting, who found that Australian households would pay over half a billion dollars more for power in 2020 without the Renewable Energy Target in place (equivalent to more than $50 per household).

The ACT has the lowest bills in the country and is on track to reach its goal of 100% renewable energy. Indeed, a recent report by the Australian National University showed that electricity price increases from 2006-2016 were highest in the states with the least renewable energy.

But on the other hand…

Wind and solar generate intermittently and at zero marginal cost – their operating costs are far lower than coal and gas generators. This means that when wind and solar are generating, prices will be lower.

However, over the medium term, lower wholesale prices could contribute to early retirement decisions for existing coal generators, and push prices higher due to increased reliance on more costly gas plants.

Intermittent generation can also increase spot price volatility and this puts upward pressure on electricity prices as well as making new investment decisions more difficult.

Now we understand the many reasons why Australian power prices have risen so much, we next need to look at what can be done about it. Stay tuned for Part 3!

Read Part 1 of this series here.

Comments

Gavin Mooney

About Gavin Mooney

Gavin Mooney is a utilities industry solution specialist for SAP. From a background in Engineering and IT, Gavin has been working in the utilities industry with SAP products for nearly 15 years.

He has had the privilege of working with a number of Electricity, Gas and Water Utilities across the globe to implement SAP’s Industry Solution for Utilities. He now works with utilities to help them identify the best way to run simple and run better with SAP’s latest products.

Gavin loves to network and build lasting business relationships and is passionate about cleantech and the fundamental transformation currently shaking up the utilities industry.

Human Skills for the Digital Future

Dan Wellers and Kai Goerlich

Technology Evolves.
So Must We.


Technology replacing human effort is as old as the first stone axe, and so is the disruption it creates.
Thanks to deep learning and other advances in AI, machine learning is catching up to the human mind faster than expected.
How do we maintain our value in a world in which AI can perform many high-value tasks?


Uniquely Human Abilities

AI is excellent at automating routine knowledge work and generating new insights from existing data — but humans know what they don’t know.

We’re driven to explore, try new and risky things, and make a difference.
 
 
 
We deduce the existence of information we don’t yet know about.
 
 
 
We imagine radical new business models, products, and opportunities.
 
 
 
We have creativity, imagination, humor, ethics, persistence, and critical thinking.


There’s Nothing Soft About “Soft Skills”

To stay ahead of AI in an increasingly automated world, we need to start cultivating our most human abilities on a societal level. There’s nothing soft about these skills, and we can’t afford to leave them to chance.

We must revamp how and what we teach to nurture the critical skills of passion, curiosity, imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and persistence. In the era of AI, no one will be able to thrive without these abilities, and most people will need help acquiring and improving them.

Anything artificial intelligence does has to fit into a human-centered value system that takes our unique abilities into account. While we help AI get more powerful, we need to get better at being human.


Download the executive brief Human Skills for the Digital Future.


Read the full article The Human Factor in an AI Future.


Comments

About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.

Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

Tags:

Finance And HR: Friends Or Foes? Shifting To A Collaborative Mindset

Richard McLean

Part 1 in the 3-part “Finance and HR Collaboration” series

In my last blog, I challenged you to think of collaboration as the next killer app, citing a recent study by Oxford Economics sponsored by SAP. The study clearly explains how corporate performance improves when finance actively engages in collaboration with other business functions.

As a case in point, consider finance and HR. Both are being called on to work more collaboratively with each other – and the broader business – to help achieve a shared vision for the company. In most organizations, both have undergone a transformation to extend beyond operational tasks and adopt a more strategic focus, opening the door to more collaboration. As such, both have assumed three very important roles in the company – business partner, change agent, and steward. In this post, I’ll illustrate how collaboration can enable HR and finance to be more effective business partners.

Making the transition to focus on broader business objectives

My colleague Renata Janini Dohmen, senior vice president of HR for SAP Asia Pacific Japan, credits a changing mindset for both finance and HR as key to enabling the transition away from our traditional roles to be more collaborative. She says, “For a long time, people in HR and finance were seen as opponents. HR was focused on employees and how to motivate, encourage, and cheer on the workforce. Finance looked at the numbers and was a lot more cautious and possibly more skeptical in terms of making an investment. Today, both areas have made the transition to take on a more holistic perspective. We are pursuing strategies and approaching decisions based on what delivers the best return on investment for the company’s assets, whether those assets are monetary or non-monetary. This mindset shift plays a key role in how finance and HR execute the strategic imperatives of the company,” she notes.

Viewing joint decisions from a completely different lens

I agree with Renata. This mindset change has certainly impacted the way I make decisions. If I’m just focused on controlling costs and assessing expenditures, I’ll evaluate programs and ideas quite differently than if I’m thinking about the big picture.

For example, there’s an HR manager in our organization who runs Compensation and Benefits. She approaches me regularly with great ideas. But those ideas cost money. In the past, I was probably more inclined to look at those conversations from a tactical perspective. It was easy for me to simply say, “No, we can’t afford it.”

Now I look at her ideas from a more strategic perspective. I think, “What do we want our culture to be in the years ahead? Are the benefits packages she is proposing perhaps the right ones to get us there? Are they family friendly? Are they relevant for people in today’s world? Will they make us an employer of choice?” I quite enjoy the rich conversations we have about the impact of compensation and benefits design on the culture we want to create. Now, I see our relationship as much more collaborative and jointly invested in attracting and retaining the best people who will ultimately deliver on the company strategy. It’s a completely different lens.

Defining how finance and HR align to the company strategy

Renata and I believe that greater collaboration between finance and HR is a critical success factor. How can your organization achieve this shift? “Once the organization has clearly defined what role finance and HR must play and how they fundamentally align to the company strategy, then it’s more natural to structure them in a way to support such transformation,” Renata explains.

Technology plays an important role in our ability to successfully collaborate. Looking back, finance and HR were heavily focused on our own operational areas because everything we did tended to consume more time – just keeping the lights on and taking care of our basic responsibilities. Now, through a more efficient operating model with shared services, standard operating procedures, and automation, we can both be more business-focused and integrated. As a result, we’re able to collaborate in more meaningful ways to have a positive impact on business outcomes.

In our next blog, we’ll look at how finance and HR can work together as agents of change.

For a deeper dive, download the Oxford Economics study sponsored by SAP.

Follow SAP Finance online: @SAPFinance (Twitter)LinkedIn | FacebookYouTube

Comments

Richard McLean

About Richard McLean

Richard McLean, regional CFO for SAP Asia Pacific Japan, oversees all key finance and administrative functions for field and regional headquarters, supporting more than 16,000 employees. He has more than 20 years of experience in senior finance roles with leading global companies across a range of industries, including financial services, investment banking, automotive, and IT. He joined SAP in 2008.