Smart-Cities: Smarter Communities powered by smarter Tools

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Smart-Cities: Smarter Communities powered by smarter Tools

Everything urban is now getting connected – from healthcare to education, government services, buildings, physical security systems, and much more. With smart-cities now actively embracing these emerging tools, the question must be asked: which ones will be leading the future

by Gordon Feller

City governments don’t have a reputation for moving quickly. However, if you’ve been paying attention to your local – government, there is a good chance significant, tangible changes have happened over the past couple of years. You may have noticed changing traffic patterns, such as car lanes converting to bike lanes; maybe there are new forms of transportation zipping around town, such as bicycles, scooters, or even autonomous vehicles; you may even be benefiting from using a mobile app for some, or all, of your city-center parking. These and numerous other changes are increasingly visible signs that many of today’s cities are changing and changing rather quickly in some dramatic cases.

What’s behind all this? In part, it comes down to the pressures resulting from growing city populations and to increasing competition between cities. According to United Nations’ demographers, the world is rapidly becoming more urbanized. In 2016, an estimated 54.5 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. That number is expected to rise to 60 percent by 2030. As more people start living in the same geographic area it creates numerous challenges. One of the main questions is how we can keep the smart-city clean, safe, and appealing under the added strain of a larger population. Having more cars on the roads isn’t an attractive option for anyone, so one of the first changes we’ve seen is cities reworking their streets to support alternative forms of transport. They also need to handle more trash, more cellphone use, potentially greater air pollution, and other strains on the infrastructure. In addition to growing populations, cities are also changing in the face of growing competition. As more people and businesses seek cities to call home, local leaders want a fair share of the potential growth. Growth is an indicator of a thriving city and councils realize that they need to deliver the services and quality of life people seek. Several elements brought into focus during the public competition for Amazon’s second headquarters also apply to most businesses. Factors at work include an educated workforce, a forgiving tax structure, transportation, room to grow, and the ability to stand out. Employees have different criteria for selecting where to live and spend their free time and every person’s set of priorities is unique. Citizen’s choices are driven by issues such as safe neighborhoods; work and educational opportunities; housing costs; efficient transportation; the convenience of arts, leisure, recreation, and community activities; and the “energy” given off by the community.

Smart-Cities: Bullish on Smart Solutions

To address the urban challenges that come with such growth, and to become more competitive, municipal authorities are embracing technology as they become especially bullish about “smart-cities solutions,” adopting them as new but essential tools. By adding Global Positioning System chips, sensors, cameras, and other devices to traditional municipal assets, such as streetlights and trash cans, cities are transforming into a digital conurbation that can be measured, monitored, and analyzed to improve outcomes.

Streetlights will be the eyes and ears of tomorrow’s smart cities.

Anil Agrawai, CEO Cimcon Lighting

Smart-Cities: Anil Agrawai - CEO Cimcon Lighting

Smart-city solutions are data-driven systems that either provide managers with greater situational awareness leading to better decision-making, or that drive automatic actions, increasingly assisted by machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms. Peter Drucker, the great management thinker, offered his own guidance on this: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” – a rule that’s being applied in earnest in today’s cities.

Smart-Cities Smart Communities Smart Tools - Realtime systems

New types of smart city systems can provide real-time data feeds from multiple smart sensors for both environmental data such as heat or toxins as well as information about traffic flows.

The most prevalent of the new city solutions is smart lighting. As with the death of traditional incandescent bulbs, the bright new hopes of high pressure sodium (HPS) and metal halide (MH) streetlights are now dimming. The replacement fixtures are LEDs because they reduce energy usage and cut costs by up to 50 percent. LED replacements don’t make a smart-city but they can be deployed along with a lighting control system to make each streetlight a manageable asset. Such control gives a city’s department of public works new capabilities that improve the lighting service delivered. These new capabilities add abilities such as remotely turning lights on and off, or dimming them during different parts of the day throughout the year. When combined with motion detectors, lamps can be automatically turned on if the presence of a person or vehicle is detected. Controllers can also help cities reduce the maintenance costs of streetlights by 30 to 50 percent and reduce energy usage by an additional 25 to 30 percent. Customer complaints about burned-out lights could be eliminated by giving management staff proactive alerts to imminent lighting issues.

Beyond lighting there are numerous other solutions being deployed today, including keeping watch in crime-ridden areas, rapidly informing first responders, measuring economic activity, improving traffic at dense intersections, correlating weather conditions to electrical and other intermittent problems, tracking road conditions, and providing municipal announcements to citizens. The variety of smart-city applications is matched only by the range of city problems.

Specific technologies have come to the forefront to solve these diverse challenges. Most notably, there are sensors that can be attached to streetlights to transform the lighting infrastructure into a citywide mesh to create a digital canopy across the city. Readings can be transmitted from the sensor network back to a central management system where the data can be aggregated, correlated with other information, and analyzed.

One such smart city platform is NearSky offered by Cimcon Lighting. According to Anil Agrawal, the company’s CEO and founder: “We had a vision that NearSky could soon transform the nondescript streetlight infrastructure into a platform that would be the eyes and ears of tomorrow’s smart-cities. The convenience and density of the streetlight infrastructure, which provides street-level resolution, was unmatched. It also offered the physical real estate and power that were essential elements for deploying smart-city solutions.”

Technology alone isn’t the answer. It may turn the outdoor world into a series of data streams but it still takes people to act. In the same way cities have begun to invest in smart technologies, they have also begun to invest in their management teams.

A smart-city strategy is usually led by a chief technology officer, a chief digital officer, a chief information officer, or a chief innovation officer. All of these roles stem from the need for challenges to be addressed by a person or team with a cross-departmental focus. Systems were deployed originally as point solutions with their focus on a single department but it has become clear that a smart-city is built over time and there is a need to have a data management strategy that spans all departments and all projects to get the best outcomes.

The smart-city is not a radically new concept. People have been imagining the benefits for decades but the concept is finally gaining traction. There is an increasing sense that not having a plan for becoming a smarter city could mean your municipality will be on the outside looking in for decades ahead. This competitive pressure, along with the need to address growing populations, should accelerate the adoption of technologies over the coming years. Cities may never be recognized as dynamic, fast-moving metropolises but they are certainly changing in meaningful ways.

The goal is complete integration of information and communication technology and existing energy infrastructures.

Monjur Mourshed, Cardiff University

Transformation of urban systems will require a shift of the business models in use by today’s urban-focused enterprises, such as electric power companies. Changes now underway are irrevocably altering the 90-year-old utilities models. The good news is that there are ways to transform industries that are affordable to consumers.

For transformation of the power grid’s intelligence and efficiency – from generation to consumption – end-to-end Internet protocol (IP) communications platforms will continually need to be designed. Delivering increased grid reliability, security, resiliency, and power quality will not be easy. A missing ingredient is the technology framework that would enable smart grids to become open platforms for innovation. “The goal is the complete integration of information and communication technology (ICT) and existing energy infrastructures for increasingly decentralized development, monitoring, and management of a resilient grid,” writes Monjur Mourshed of Cardiff University – which is why it’s so important to focus on an open platform for innovation.

Collective efforts must focus on developing solutions that transform energy production, distribution, and consumption, while using a highly secure, open-standards-based system built around the common language of IP networking. The goal must be to help utilities do something that has long been discussed: to provide a more reliable and efficient delivery of electric power from the generation facilities to businesses and homes, and creating better energy management to provide positive economic and environmental benefits.

Next-generation grids will need to be:

Observable – Making a smart grid work will hinge on the observability of the fast, reliable, and secure exchange of data all across the grid. This capability can emerge through pervasive, real-time sensing measured in increasingly shorter durations – as short as 120th of a second.

Automated – Employing pervasive sensing means developing the ability to automatically respond to conditions and events beyond traditional protection and controls. This will eventually become mainstream and will allow more refined control of what is becoming an increasingly diverse and stochastic electric system.

Smart Cities Communities Smart Tools - Realtime systems

New types of smart-citiy systems can provide real-time data feeds from multiple smart sensors for both environmental data such as heat or toxins as well as information about traffic flows.

Intelligent – Energy networks and other grids will evolve over the next ten years to enable diverse sources of supply and responsive loadings. Sophisticated analytics, coupled with advanced distributed control schemes, will enable adaptive teleprotection and intelligent systems to manage inherently unstable systems.

Transactive – As IoT converges with the “electrification of everything,” hundreds of millions of energy-smart devices will be able to interact with energy markets. This can lead to trillions of micro-transactions.

The technology required is worth investigating because there are elements of the tech story that are not obvious. The ongoing process to electrify energy is having two notable impacts that are hidden from public view:

  • Increasing the roles played by clean electricity in fueling our economies
  • Improving the positive relationship between electricity consumption and economic growth

Convergence of multiple networks is now underway and one element that stands out is where information, communications, and electricity networks interplay with social networks. This is providing a platform for a smarter grid that empowers customers.

Networks Are Platforms

In the long term, energy interdependence linked with cleantech economic policies is the right direction for government. More immediately, there is the need to balance the new demands on the electric grid and operations with minimizing cost increases to customers.

Using energy networks as platforms means the entire energy ecosystem can be made smarter, faster, more agile, resilient and, most importantly, more secure – from power generation to its consumption. A customer’s ability to pay the price for this modernization and the implementation of clean energy policies is stretched owing to an increasing population that is on fixed or low income.

Rising global demand means traditional approaches to increase electric generation and distribution capacity will no longer surface. Companies and governments will need to work together to create a more secure and scalable end-to-end communication infrastructure to provide real-time information on the performance and health of the grid operators. That system will also need to allow customers to do more than consume – they must be empowered to collaborate with the utility companies in efficiency energy management. Employing the network for energy management will enable utility companies to optimize power supply in response to demand, improve security and reliability, integrate renewable energy resources onto the grid more efficiently, and reduce operational costs.

Governments and private firms are realizing that transforming supply, delivery, and consumption depends on three interdependent elements: policy, economics, and technology. Together they will drive transformation by creating a sustainable, reliable grid. Indeed, legislation and regulations triggered the fundamental transformation that is now underway.

Smart City: Smart Communities Smart Tools - Network energy management

Employing the network for energy management will enable utility companies to optimize power supply in response to demand, improve security and reliability, and integrate renewable energy resources onto the grid while reducing operational costs.

Without new technology, none of this will work because new infrastructure is needed. Utility companies are responding to mandates and incentives to integrate significant amounts of wind and solar-generated power, while pursuing massive capital programs to replace and expand the electricity infrastructure. Many recognize that modernization also includes deploying information and communications technologies.

Economics are often the most critical factor in making policy and technology choices – and these choices have impacts on societal, customer, and business value. While there is much discussion among stakeholders, there remains a lack of clarity regarding the value in each of those areas. Understanding and articulating customer value is a key to the success of smart grids.

Transforming electricity delivery and consumption while delivering new value to customers is going to depend on many factors. But the fact remains that near-real-time information allows utilities to manage the entire electricity system as an integrated framework, actively sensing and responding to changes in power demand, supply, costs, quality, and emissions across various locations and devices.

Making the grid smarter, more secure, and more resilient is one of the great business and technology opportunities of this century. There’s an exciting convergence going on already between energy technology (ET) and information technology (IT). In order to realize the benefits of this convergence, the technology architecture must align to the business architecture. Utility companies and technology manufacturers need to be as knowledgeable about the business issues as they are about the technology. Electricity companies have significant challenges in implementing their converged ET/IT platforms; among which are the issues of legacy integration and deployment management. The legacy device and system issues can dominate technology adoption, making it impossible to make wholesale and immediate changes to utility infrastructure for both financial and logistical reasons. Any technology upgrade plan must take these points into account and the business implications of a proposed upgrade must be understood.

In addition to the need to accommodate the existence of legacy devices and systems, it is also necessary to understand that new technology implementations are done via rollouts and transitions and that operations and services need to be able to keep up. While these issues may be challenging, they have been addressed successfully in other industries. However, the unique needs of the power industry and the ways in which business processes and financing impact such a technical transformation must be integral parts of the convergence process. Business architecture is the integration of corporate strategy, business models, processes, and functions. It’s the starting point for determining the appropriate organization-Specific technology architecture. The strategic options facing utility industry executives involve an uncertain future and a period of rapid transformation.

Disentangling the complex links between public policy and business strategy makes it easier to determine the cost benefits of Specific investments, to understand the architectural context, and to assess investments in terms of sequencing and synergies when developing robust technology roadmaps.

There are many ways to innovate. This means that it’s not just about new boxes or devices. It’s increasingly about looking at the challenges and solutions in different ways. A strong architecture enables a rethink of the entire situation: applying protocols in innovative ways to achieve performance levels unachievable in the past.

Investment in new technology along with replacement of an aging transmission and distribution infrastructure will create a stronger and more resilient grid. Investments in operational information and communications technology via discrete investments as part of the infrastructure upgrade could result in smarter grids that are also more secure.

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