Smart energy as a smart city driver (and why utilities need to be at the table)


By Liz Enbysk


In many ways, utilities hold the keys to a smarter city, since energy plays a role in just about everything that happens in a city.  And with people moving to cities at an unprecedented rate - by some estimates over 700 million people will be added to urban populations over the next 10 years - the handwriting on the wall is pretty easy to read. Simply put: Today's cities are ill-equipped to deal with the growing pains.


Some of the reasons why will hit close to home for utilities.  For instance, high on the list of pain points for cities the world over is inadequate infrastructure. You may recall that earlier this year the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States an overall grade of D+ for its infrastructure. Meanwhile, much of the developing world has missing or inadequate infrastructure, requiring massive build-outs. The 2012 blackout in India that left more than 600 million people without electricity is a prime example; the country has inadequate power generation to meet ever-increasing demand.


Which is why utilities - public and private, electric, gas and water - should all be at the table when city and regional leaders start talking about how to integrate information and communications technologies (ICT) to meet the demands of increasing urbanization. And more and more of them are starting to do that.


But it's not going to be cheap. Over the next 20 years, the world’s 700 largest cities are projected to make a cumulative infrastructure investment of $30-$40 trillion, according to a Markets and Markets report. 


That's why earlier this week the Smart Cities Council, which is chaired by SGN Chief Analyst Jesse Berst, launched the first comprehensive, vendor-neutral smart city handbook for city leaders and planners. The Smart Cities Readiness Guide helps them assess their city's current state of technology and its readiness to become a smart city. Importantly, it also gives them the tools to make wise investment decisions as they plot out a smart city roadmap, with vendor-neutral technology recommendations on all eight of a city’s most important responsibilities: the built environment, energy, telecommunications, transportation, water and waste water, health and human services, public safety and payments.

The Guide was designed with input from leading smart city and urban planning experts as well as top global technology companies from a variety of industries - including a number of major players in the energy space. The downloadable pdf is a collection of guidelines, best practices and more than 50 case studies - from Chattanooga's smart grid to Tianjin, China's unified metering platform that manages water, heat and gas data together under one system. It helps a city create its own customized "wish list" with the confidence that it has not left out anything essential and that all the pieces will work together even if they are built in stages. It also highlights a variety of approaches to getting the job done, from sharing resources to public-private partnerships and the importance of citizen engagement.


Bottom line, the Guide is loaded with talking points and examples utilities may find useful as they join city leaders to shape tomorrow's cities. It is available for free download on the Smart Cities Council website, but does require a one-time registration.