With a more collaborative approach in place, cities can accelerate their transformation to smart city status and usher in a future of clean energy, connectivity, economic prosperity and much more for their communities,
argues
Scott Foster

City leaders and governments around the world are increasingly realizing the vast opportunities that smart city projects can provide – from sustainability to security, to economic opportunities and an overall higher quality of life for residents.

In fact, a 2017 Navigant Research report indicated that there are 250 smart city initiatives in more than 178 cities around the world, with the majority focusing on government and energy initiatives, followed by transport, buildings and water goals – and that number is only continuing to grow.

Major cities like Barcelona are already reaping the benefits of the implementation of smart city systems, saving the city 47,000 jobs, €42.5 million ($50 million) on water and generating an extra €36.5 million a year through smart parking initiatives.

In another example, San Diego is upgrading to LED streetlights and equipping those poles with cameras, sensors and a variety of devices to help with traffic management, management of parking, and even to better manage crime.

There are incredible benefits to the implementation of smart city capabilities, yet there are challenges that have held communities back. Budget limitations, a lack of reliable and supporting infrastructure, and a lack of leadership on implementation have all been inhibiting factors. So how can communities better accelerate the adoption of smarter cities, and what rewards will they reap by doing so?

Adoption through collaboration

Cities consume 70 per cent of the world’s energy and, what’s more, by 2050 urban areas are on track to be home to 6.5 billion people worldwide – that’s 2.5 billion more than today. As demands on occupancy and energy increase around the world, cities must address areas including technology, communications, energy usage and more – and smart city adoption is a tempting solution.

In their eagerness to explore the smart city opportunities, one of the stumbling blocks for cities has been diving in without first coordinating efforts across the board. For example, a utility may be using one network for its smart meters, while another department is using a different network for its streetlights. This means that key data ends up siloed within departments, making it difficult for the city to unite efforts and truly glean insights from that data.

Key to realizing the smart city vision is in municipal leaders focusing on collaborating and communicating across all groups and departments including private companies, academic institutions, citizens, community groups and especially utilities.

In fact, in a recent survey of utility, municipal, commercial and community stakeholders across the US, nearly 43 per cent of respondents noted utilities as a top driver for their smart city collaboration efforts. It’s no surprise they are so integral to driving transformation into a smart city – not only are utilities’ assets deployed throughout a city, but they have relationships with the majority of its business owners and residents.

Smart benefits

Once municipalities have the right smart city plan in action and have initiated collaboration with all of the key stakeholders, the benefits of accelerating smart city adoption can be seen in both the short and long term.

From a sustainability perspective, cities that embrace smart city initiatives and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies can optimize their use of resources – including water, energy and even waste. Boston, Massachusetts, for example, is exploring clean energy microgrids for resiliency and working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to map energy footprints around the city. In Los Angeles, smart city implementation is already reaping benefits. By installing LED bulbs in the city-wide streetlights, the city was able to successfully cut its energy use by 60 per cent – an investment that will repay the up-front costs in seven years. In attaching mobile sensors to the devices as well, the city can know which bulbs have burned out and, in time, be able to brighten, dim, and blink the lights and gather environmental information on an area.

Projects like this go beyond sustainability by also significantly improving quality of life and even the health of residents. Because smart cities enable the collection and analysis of large amounts of data on a daily basis, leaders are able to make more informed decisions about how and where to provide critical services to the public – and in real time.

For example, connected traffic infrastructure with analytics can be used to improve traffic throughout a city and prevent traffic snarls and congestion. In another example, Chicago has deployed a city-wide network of sensors mounted on lamp posts, which track the presence of a number of air pollutants. The data is used to predict air quality incidents to help the city take preventative action.

And not only do smart cities improve the lives of their residents and lower costs for municipalities, they also serve as a draw for new residents and outside businesses to boost the economy. Better air quality, lower utility costs, accessible Wi-Fi and other benefits can entice them to make the move.

It’s these, and numerous other benefits, that are within reach for cities if they have the right roadmap in place to get there.

The smart revolution

Cities are under pressure to become smart to meet demand from their growing populations. Budget limitations, issues with infrastructure and a lack of leadership have traditionally held municipalities back, but there is work that can be done to address these issues through increased collaboration with community stakeholders, from residents to utilities.

With a more collaborative approach in place, cities can accelerate their transformation to smart city status and usher in a future of clean energy, connectivity, economic prosperity and much more for their communities.

Scott Foster is chief executive and president of Delta Energy & Communications