Envision Charlotte: Building a Smart City Through Collaboration and Innovation

We recently hosted a conversation about the role technology and collaboration play in driving urban modernization and results. Envision Charlotte’s story is an example of a private-public partnership at its best. Over the last few years, Envision Charlotte has brought together Charlotte’s utilities, the City, County, large companies and universities to build a network of projects that tie all of these groups together to use technology to find efficiencies bringing the cost to do business in Charlotte down and creating a more sustainable urban core. Envision Charlotte has brought in leading companies in the Smart Cities space to use Charlotte as a living lab to test new technologies and programs for their success before launching them into the commercial space. This has allowed Charlotte to become one of the smartest cities in the country.

We invite you to continue reading some of the interesting questions posed by our webinar attendees.

What did you do to engage and sell elected officials in Charlotte on using funds and resources to start the smart city transformation? ­

AA: That this initiative was an economic development program and by reducing the cost of doing business in Charlotte more businesses would ultimately want to move their business to Charlotte.

How about community participation? Is the community there actively involved?­

AA: We focus on the 61 large commercial buildings in our uptown and we engage the employees of those buildings. To date we have trained 1,500 individuals on learning sustainable actions in the workplace.

What were the top 3 things you did that made the collaboration work with all the stakeholders in this great project?­

AA: First of all, we needed the right leadership to get the program going and that was Jim Rogers, the former CEO of Duke Energy. He is a visionary and is well respected in our community. Second, we needed to make sure it was a ‘win’ for everyone involved. For example, working with UNCC helps our partner buildings understand how their buildings operate and the best energy efficiency projects for them to implement, but that also helps UNCC by giving their students real world experience. Third, we needed a group of committed individuals across many sectors to help create the mission and then to bring their respective organizations along, such as the city, county, utility, university and private sector.

RV: At Itron, we see collaboration as one of the key drivers for sustainable cities. I think to truly make cities smarter, we need to engage all stakeholders, including city leaders, utilities, local businesses, non-profit groups, start-ups and citizen groups, to ensure that each city is making the most of all of its resources: human, financial, technology and natural resources.

In which geographic regions are people seeing the most activity in smart city projects?­

RV:   Thinking about the smart city projects I’m familiar with I would say there are many of them in all parts of the world, ranging from smaller scale collaborations to new city development. In Europe for example, Amsterdam is taking a similar approach to Envision Charlotte by focusing on the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. Amsterdam Smart City (ASC) is a unique partnership between businesses, authorities, research institutions and the people of Amsterdam. With this model, groups start small, get early results and then scale-out the projects. However, in China, Itron is actually taking part in the development of a new sustainable city in Tianjin. Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City is a flagship government-to-government project between Singapore and China. Established in 2007, it is built on the vision of being “a thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient”. When completed in 2020, Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City is estimated to have approximately 350,000 residents.

Has the data thus far revealed anything surprising or unexpected about Charlotte? ­

AA: Not yet, but as we gather more data from the other pillars and start to look at the nexus of those data sets, that could get interesting!

Has there been a successful case of a startup that proved their technology in Charlotte via Envision, and then went on to bigger projects in other cities?­

AA: Duke Energy’s Smart Energy Now, which has been renamed to Smart Energy In Offices has been commercialized and is now being rolled out to other parts of their market. That was the project that worked with employers and employees on behavior programs.

When cities enter into Smart City projects, what are the most common driving factors and target areas? Do these differ widely across geography?­

RV: As I travel around the states and abroad attending smart city-related events and talking to mayors, city leaders and utilities, I hear some commonality from all stakeholders. Consistently, they are trying to apply creative thinking and technology to address challenges across the energy and water, transportation, healthcare, air and waste sectors. If you consider that more than half of the world’s population are living in cities, this puts an incredible strain on these areas, which means we need to be resourceful with what we have to create sustainable cities for our grandkids and their grandkids.

What’s the EV adoption rate in Charlotte and what is the city doing to accelerate charge station infrastructure?

AA: Currently the EV adoption rate is relatively low, we do however, have 53 charging stations in our uptown. We are working with Duke Energy on an education program for the employees of our partner buildings to start educating people on EV’s and their advantages.

What advice would you give to other cities that are just starting down the road toward becoming a smart city? ­

RV: To be successful, cities need to have a plan with goals and measureable milestones. If cities start small and get early success, they can prove that the concept works and then scale out. I think Envision Charlotte can serve as a great model for other cities in the U.S. and around the world.

One of the ways to encourage people to get actively involved and be motivated about energy savings is the competition. Is there any such set up done or under planning for these selected buildings?­

AA: We are looking to roll out an app for the employees in the partner buildings and this will allow us to start building to building competition. We have had that request from several buildings.

About the Authors

Russ Vanos, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, Itron
Russ Vanos
Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development
Itron
Amy Aussieker, Executive Director of Envision Charlotte
Amy Aussieker
Executive Director
Envision Charlotte

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