Smart Cities: Turning Information Into Action

by Mar 18, 2014Smart Cities

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We recently hosted a conversation about how the smart cities movement is gaining more momentum with city leaders, planners, businesses, NGOs and consumers engaging in meaningful conversations about sustainable cities and thriving communities.  Our goal was to move past the hype around smart cities and provide insights about the tools, technology and real-world examples of smart cities demonstration projects to help stakeholders take action.

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

Is SGIP 2.0 (Smart Grid Interoperability Standards) applicable to smart cities and addressing the energy and water nexus? We must show that smart cities and a smart grid are not only electric-centric.

Russ Vanos: I think standards and open protocols are critical to interoperability and are key to grid modernization and innovation at the city level.  In order for utilities and cities to break down the traditionally siloed energy and water information, devices need to be able to plug-and-play with the underlying network and data infrastructure to share information.  This is the most efficient way to manage resources.

There is no question that energy and water are interconnected and the future of how they are managed is linked. Automating the measurement and analysis of energy and water are foundational to a smart city and to addressing the energy and water nexus.

How do you get city IT departments engaged in things like smart grid, intelligent transportation and smart utilities?

Jesse Berst: Our advice continues to be “think big then start small”. Think big by creating an overall vision for your city over the next 10-20 years. Make it aspirational and inspirational. With that motivator in hand, create a smart city task force that includes the major players. From there, build your smart city roadmap as explained in the Smart Cities Readiness Guide. The roadmap should include some small starter projects with a quick payback.

Jason Zogg: Clearly it is important to lay out the business case, what is the value added, the return on investment and the funding method. However, in many ways this is a professional networking exercise. You need to find the most forward thinking entrepreneurially minded individual in each department or within the entire city government. Another method that I often utilize is simply positioning it as a pilot project. You can get an amazing amount accomplished with the initial step of a pilot project, and if it shows value, people get excited about it and when it gets positive press, it will stick. Again, your champions may not be the actual implementing department; your champions might be the City Planning and Development Department or Economic Development Department, or your local Economic Development Corporation, or the city chief innovation officer, or a special advisor to the mayor, or a specific city counselor.

“Involving all stakeholders” sounds good, but how do you actually do it? More specifically, is this about putting sensors all over the place to passively collect data, or do you empower citizens? And if so, how do you do it?­

JB: Involving all stakeholders is a people issue, not a technology issue. It means using in-person meetings and social media to solicit input from all the important categories. All of the departments in the city who could be affected. And all the citizen groups that will be affected. Yes, you may prefer to keep the actual working committee small to make it more nimble. But that core group should actively solicit feedback from the other stakeholders on a regular basis.

One method with a good track record is called “Appreciative Inquiry.” It is a methodology for arriving at a positive consensus.

How do you ensure a project is scalable and replicable everywhere?­

RV: As Jesse mentioned, as a first step, each city should create a comprehensive master plan that addresses the big picture. Then, start small to get quick wins and build out from there.  For example, as Jason Zogg mentioned, DTE Energy is starting with a smart cities demonstration project that focuses on providing more information to city leaders and citizens so that they can take different actions.

From a technology perspective, I think standards-based, open networks and plug-and-play products combined with a whole lot of collaboration, with integrators, technology companies like Microsoft; Cisco; Itron, and city stakeholders, ensures that investments today can be extended tomorrow.

­What is the business model for the Intellistreets light poles­?

JZ: Every city as an extensive and vastly underutilized infrastructure of streetlight poles. This underutilized infrastructure provides a city the opportunity to efficiently integrate multiple city systems and services onto each pole, and through intelligent communications offer complete control and customization by district, street, anchor institution, and more. Not every feature will be on every pole nor will every feature be relevant to every district. We are interested in piloting this technology around our headquarters campus to gain insights on the economics, utility and energy efficiency of each feature so we might be able to apply those learnings to lighting upgrade projects in the future.

A panelist mentioned the importance of involving all stakeholders; how can citizens be involved in the creation of these solutions?­

JB: One method with a good track record is called “Appreciative Inquiry.” It is a methodology for arriving at a positive consensus.

­In your view of smart cities, what role do things like waste-to-energy solutions and connected vehicles play?

RV:  Both play a role in cities of the future.  With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, waste is going to be an issue and waste to energy is an option for addressing it.  In Charlotte, for example, waste is one of the four pillars Envision Charlotte is addressing.  Envision Charlotte conducted waste audits and a survey of buildings to establish a baseline for waste in a few categories.  The goal is to reduce the amount of waste going to a landfill.

Electric vehicles are playing a role today.  In 2008, there were 430 EV charging stations in the U.S. and in 2010 there were 13,392.* Sales of the Volt, Leaf, and Prius are up since 2010 and with Tesla entering the market in 2012, growth is expected to increase.  EV’s need to be part of a city’s overall plan.  With advancements in sensing technology, technology facilitates collaboration between residential EV owners, local utilities and public charging station service providers.  By connecting electric usage and vehicle usage patterns to both consumers and smart meters, opportunities to incent off-peak charging and apply vehicle-specific tariffs are enabled. Smart charging also brings EV owners into full participation in utility demand response events.

A consumer-owned charging station with sensing allows the consumer to receive financial incentives from a local utility, while the utility benefits from insight into charging patterns that impact the electrical grid, as well as the impact of programs targeted at the consumer to shift charging to off-peak periods, or reduce the charging rate during certain times. This illustrates the collaborative networking potential of sensing technology. When energy usage patterns are clearly understood by all parties, financial opportunities can be created for mutual benefit.

*U.S. DOE Alternative Fuels Data Center

Can you cite an example or two of IOT actually helping city leaders make more intelligent decisions?

RV: If you look at IOT from the perspective of converting proprietary or purpose-based networks to IP-based networks you can see in the utility industry, IOT is helping utilities take action based on the data they are collecting today.  For example, with BC Hydro in Canada, the cost for deploying their smart infrastructure is paying for itself by using data to become more efficient and reduce electricity theft, which currently costs their customers up to $100 million a year.  Consider CenterPoint Energy in Houston, who is using smart infrastructure to remotely read meters and respond to more than five million service requests. CenterPoint Energy’s fully installed and operational project has saved 7 million vehicle trips, resulting in the conservation of about 460,000 gallons of gasoline, and preventing approximately 5,700 metric tons of CO2 emissions.

Now, taking this technology to cities, like Charlotte, we’re finding that arming building managers and consumers with information helps achieve energy and water usage reduction goals.  This is one example of how energy and water information is making a real difference in Charlotte.

Additionally, the Smart Cities Council’s website cites a number of smart cities examples.

What would you say are the bad sides of smart cities, the limits, the drawbacks?­

JB: The more intelligence, the more potential for cyber-fraud and loss of privacy. Those issues should be addressed very early in the process and “baked into” every project right from the beginning.

What advice do you have for “smart city” evangelists in other companies who are working in companies who do not have as immediate a connection to get their company leadership to get more engaged?

JB: One possibility is to collect the names of competing companies who are already pursuing the opportunity. Another is to collect the names of partner companies who are moving in that direction. Or to get a market forecast from one of the research firms to prove the growth potential.  The smart cities market has hit the tipping point. Advantage will go to the early movers.

RV: As I said during the webcast, the future demands collaboration. We’ll need more creative thinking and collaboration than ever. Bringing all stakeholders, city leaders, government, businesses and citizens, together to harness the power of collaboration and innovation will be key to moving smart city programs forward. Smart cities groups and initiatives, such as the Smart Cities Council and Microsoft CityNext help drive collaboration.

JZ: This is the century of cities. Everyone involved in this field of work understands the numbers driving that reality, many of which were highlighted in the webinar. Any company that does not understand that will be left behind. You have to inspire your leaders, and make your vision relatable to their daily lives in addition to the corporate aspiration statement or priorities. Be clear on how your company can be part of that futureplay to their legacy. Find out who they trust and what organizations or leaders they admire, or listen to. If people in your company say “that’s not what we do” bring up the Kodak story I told you in the webinar. Use the words innovation and entrepreneurship frequently, and call everything a pilot project to get people more comfortable with implementing new ideas. Follow the lead of the engineers who worked on the Erie Canal, start with the easiest section first, gain confidence in what you are doing, this prepares you for the more difficult parts, creates buy-in from stakeholders and influences the inevitability that you must finish what you started.

About the Authors

Russ Vanos — Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, ItronRuss Vanos
Vice President, Strategy and Business Development

Jesse Berst — Chairman, Smart Cities CouncilJesse Berst
Smart Cities Council

Jason Zogg — Urban Planner, DTE EnergyJason Zogg
Urban Planner
DTE Energy


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