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Raising the IQ of Smart Cities

Published: Feb 6, 2018 Blog Post

IMT is a strong proponent of both local leadership on building efficiency and the need for wider market access to reliable, accurate data in order to drive smarter business decisions in both the private and public realms. In this guest blog, Tim Porter, global OEM and partner sales director at Urjanet, explores the role of data in the rise of smart cities.

When it comes to leadership in climate action, cities and municipalities have charged ahead to the forefront. C40 brings together some of the world’s largest cities to work toward fulfilling the terms of the Paris agreement. The 100 Resilient Cities initiative takes their commitment a step further into developing step-by-step plans to protect city residents from both sudden and long-term crises. But all of these ambitious initiatives need data and connectivity to work—hence, the birth of smart cities.

“Smart cities” draw on available data to improve health, safety, and efficiency for their residents. This includes data on everything from income, crime, and illness to traffic and parking citations. Our vision for the future of smart cities looks like a living, interlinked, continuously evolving network. But in order for this to come to fruition, smart cities need dependable, open data access in place.

Investment in Infrastructure

One of the first steps to building a resilient smart city is investing in infrastructure. A reliable, extensive transportation network is crucial to ensuring that residents across the city can get around in the midst of natural disaster. The city of Zhuzhou, for instance, pioneered the world’s first “smart bus,” using sensors to run on virtual tracks. The smart bus is faster and more affordable to build than a new subway system, with the same level of accessibility.

Smart city infrastructure also involves going green—literally. Barcelona has a 20-year master plan for its trees. Over the course of that time, the city plans to increase total tree canopy from five percent to 30 percent. The shade and cooling effect generated is estimated to cut utility costs from air conditioning in nearby buildings by more than $10 million every year.

With more resilient infrastructure, power failures like that of the Atlanta airport won’t have such devastating consequences in the future. The 11-hour power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson International led to more than 1,000 canceled flights, impacting 30,000 people. After investigating, the city concluded that an underground electrical fire had damaged both the airport’s main power system and its backup, bringing light to the two systems’ unsafe proximity. Incidents like these are a perfect learning opportunity for cities, so they can prepare their infrastructure to better handle unwelcome surprises.

Reliable Access to Data

None of this innovation would be possible, however, without reliable access to data. Take the city of San Francisco as an example. San Francisco partnered with Siemens’ data-driven City Performance Tool to analyze the city’s emissions data. The tool used data inputs from the city’s transport sector, energy generation, and building usage to determine which infrastructure investments would have the greatest impact toward the city’s emissions reduction goal. “For cities, reducing carbon is really a test of how well you take advantage of technology,” said Dennis Rodriguez, Siemens’ Chief City Executive for San Francisco.

Accessing this kind of data isn’t always easy. In the absence of extensive submeter installation, tracking detailed energy usage across thousands of buildings is a formidable task. Without a tool like Siemens’ or automated access to utility data, cities won’t have the foundation they need to move their initiatives forward. That’s why investment in smart technology starts and ends with reliable data.

It behooves me to add: Not only does data access need to be reliable, but it also needs to be open. Sharing data promotes transparency and engages residents in smart cities’ efforts—and public engagement won’t happen on its own.

The Human Side of the Story

A recent survey from the Economist Intelligence Unit found that only 15 percent of respondents felt they could have a meaningful impact on smart city projects. This is concerning because as we’ve seen, people tend to show apathy toward what they can’t change. So, in order to bring the public into the fold, cities must be transparent and thoughtful in conveying the human side of the story.

Los Angeles is taking this on by highlighting how its investments are benefiting everyday residents. The city is working to intelligently monitor street lights with acoustic sensors, already reducing the city’s energy usage by 63 percent. But more importantly, it’s enhanced a sense of safety for anyone walking on the sidewalk at night. Putting the spotlight on a positive impact on people can bring needed color to the oft-dry, ROI-focused smart city project.

Smart cities have a bright future ahead of them. As long as they continue to invest in innovation with effective data management, keeping in mind the human impact of their progress, these cities will provide a beacon of sustainability leadership for the rest of the world to follow. 

Tim Porter has more than 20 years of experience in sales and business development, specializing in technology and software. In his current position, Tim serves as Urjanet's global OEM and partner sales director, managing a team responsible for building relationships with energy and sustainability partners and expanding Urjanet into international markets.