Are you working with utilities on your smart city plans? If not, you should be

Wed, 2016-03-09 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

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"In many smart city developments, energy and water are foundational. In fact, I would say you can't have a smart city without energy and water." -- Russ Vanos, VP of sales and marketing  for Global Software, Services and Smart Cities with Itron.

Vanos, speaking in an interview with Engerati, stressed the importance of energy and water for smart cities, and why city leaders need to bring their electric and water utilities to the planning table when they're talking strategy.

He should know. Itron, a Council Lead Partner, has brought automation technology to millions of oil, gas and water endpoints for utilities working to incorporate the smart technologies they need to become more efficient, more responsive to what their customers want and more reliable and resilient. And for smart cities those networks can reach beyond those goals. "If one starts to automate millions of endpoints for energy and water, one has a very robust network, which can then be used for other applications."

How does that work and why should smart cities be thinking that way?
"We need technology that can connect quickly, reliably and efficiently, and that in some cases can run apps and make decisions right there at the edge. And we need to take the data and marry it with other data to conduct real analytics. For example, a utility might need to increase back-up generation because the weather is not and there are a lot of people in town, or the traffic lights need to be adjusted because a sporting event is just finishing. Whatever those decisions are, they need to be made and acted on in real time."

Also open standards and interoperability are essential to moving away from traditional networks used for only one purpose to networks that can handle the functions and operations he described and more. He added that edge intelligence -- meters and sensors -- capable of making those decisions are essential.

In addition, Vanos pointed to two smart cities projects Itron is involved in: Envision Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina and another in Spokane, Washington. The projects are different, but what is working for Charlotte and Spokane is a departure from the old model that dictated how legacy networks were managed. In both examples the successful approach is all parties involved share ownership: utilities, city government, the private sector and academic institutions.

For Vanos, those partnerships are a natural. "Utilities know how to deliver large capital and construction projects, so they are well set to deliver large scale smart city projects and are a key player." While regulatory issues may get in the way (hampering how much utilities can do) and need to be addressed, business models that bring public and private partners together will go a long way toward meeting the challenges smart cities projects can represent.

Related articles…
Energy efficiency: A gateway to big smart cities initiatives
Putting it all together: communications for water, power and smart cities

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.