The concept of Smart Cities offers the promise of urban hubs leveraging connected technologies to become increasingly prosperous, safe, healthy, resilient, and clean. What may not be obvious in achieving these objectives is that many already-existing utility assets can serve as the foundation for a Smart City transition. The following is a broad discussion on the areas of overlap between utilities and smart cities, highlighting working knowledge from experience at PG&E.
Bringing Water into the 21st Century: Managing Water with Open Data
I chaired a session during the 4th Annual Silicon Valley Energy & Sustainability Summit organized by The Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
This special program convened on June 30th at Oracle Headquarters in Redwood City, California. The overarching theme was built around this question: “What’s Next After Paris & What’s In Store For California?”
Meeting the goals laid out in the Paris agreement signed in December 2015 will require new technologies, new policies and new financing – and, even then, the successful transition to clean energy will be quite difficult.
In seeking to meet the needs of residents, businesses and the environment, California lacks a comprehensive and accurate way to assess the water use and supply under its management responsibility. The State of California currently lacks the water data, or the widely adopted practices and technologies, which will enable better water management by its own governmental agencies. In addition, water infrastructure throughout the state is aging and in need of repair, numerous communities are without safe water, and many suffer from unreliable and degraded water supplies.
This 60-minute panel session featured a vigorous discussion of the various policies, technologies and practices that help California identify and remedy the problems it faces, while fostering innovation to address our most basic needs. As you might expect from anything involving Meeting of the Minds, there was a special focus on data and information systems.
The panelists who joined me on stage were these four leaders:
Goverment Affairs Manager Sonoma County Water Agency
Assemblymember California State Assembly Author of AB 1755, The Open and Transparent Water Data Act
Director of Operations and Market Development WaterSmart Software
Water Sector Lead for Smart Integrated Infrastructure and Director of Water Treatment Technology Black & Veatch
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
When the idea of smart cities was born, some ten to fifteen years ago, engineers, including me, saw it primarily as a control system problem with the goal of improving efficiency, specifically the sustainability of the city. Indeed, the source of much of the early technology was the process industry, which was a pioneer in applying intelligent control to chemical plants, oil refineries, and power stations. Such plants superficially resemble cities: spatial scales from meters to kilometers, temporal scales from seconds to days, similar scales of energy and material inputs, and thousands of sensing and control points.
So it seemed quite natural to extend such sophisticated control systems to the management of cities. The ability to collect vast amounts of data – even in those pre-smart phone days – about what goes on in cities and to apply analytics to past, present, and future states of the city seemed to offer significant opportunities for improving efficiency and resilience. Moreover, unlike tightly-integrated process plants, cities seemed to decompose naturally into relatively independent sub-systems: transportation, building management, water supply, electricity supply, waste management, and so forth. Smart meters for electricity, gas, and water were being installed. GPS devices were being imbedded in vehicles and mobile telephones. Building controls were gaining intelligence. Cities were a major source for Big Data. With all this information available, what could go wrong?
If you want a healthier community, you don’t just treat illness. You prevent it. And you don’t prevent it by telling people to quit smoking, eat right and exercise. You help them find jobs and places to live and engaging schools so they can pass all that good on, so they can build solid futures and healthy neighborhoods and communities filled with hope.