Why you should study Envision:Charlotte as a clue to your own future
By Jesse Berst
Today I want to tell you about an initiative that is emblematic of an important trend - the intersection of smart grids and smart cities. It also includes several innovative approaches other cities and utilities may want to investigate.
Originally announced by former president Bill Clinton in 2010 at the Clinton Global Initiative, Envision:Charlotte has as its goal to dramatically improve the sustainability of downtown Charlotte as an engine for economic growth. The North Carolina city is sometimes called "energy capital USA" because the nearby region is home to more than 175 energy companies, employing more than 13,000 people.
The initiative is notable for several reasons:
Â· Public/private partnership. The initiative includes Duke Energy, the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, Bank of America and many others.
Â· More than just electricity. The initiative embraces water as well, and will someday extend to other aspects of sustainability.
Â· Public kiosks to deliver usage information along with recommendations to drive behavior change.
Â· Linking "smart" with "jobs." Many utilities have faltered in their efforts to sell their modernization efforts to their ratepayers and regulators. Envision:Charlotte is being careful to associate the initiative directly with economic development. "Envision:Charlotte is creating a model for communities in demonstrating the link between sustainability and growth," said Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx.
Is your city next?
The smart cities movement is already well underway in Europe and Asia. I predict it will soon gather steam in North America as well for a very simple reason - competition. North American cities are competing with their global rivals to attract talent and jobs. Smart city infrastructure will soon become essential to remain competitive.
And you can't have a smart city unless you have smart energy and smart water. As result, the city's utility is either a path to a better future... or an obstacle. Common wisdom has it that municipal utilities will fulfill this role, but investor-owned utilities may not. IOUs, some say, may drag their feet.
That's why it is so encouraging to see an IOU such as Duke not merely agreeing to come along for the ride, but actively leading one of its constituent cities into the future. After all of the negative press and all of the negative comments from politicians after recent storms, it was refreshing to read a positive comment from Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx: "I applaud the leadership in innovation from our utility and the solution partners with whom they are working... Together we are working to make Center City Charlotte the most environmentally sustainable center city on the planet."
You can read the press release here>>
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Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid News.com, the industry's oldest and largest smart grid site. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the U.S. and abroad, he also serves on advisory committees for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Institute for Electric Efficiency. He often provides strategic consulting to large corporations and venture-backed startups. He is a member of the advisory boards of GridGlo and Calico Energy Services.