The world needs smart utilities. 2 things you can do to make yours smart

Fri, 2016-03-04 06:00 -- SCC Partner

By Fred Ellermeier, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Black & Veatch’s Smart Integrated Infrastructure Business

Municipalities around the world are answering the call for smarter systems in unique and pioneering ways. But the different paths to the “smart city” share a common understanding: Traditional approaches to solving problems are no longer enough when measured against the needs of growing populations and their demands for power, water and robust communication systems.

Even as standard definitions of “smart cities” and “smart utilities” remain elusive, common themes of sustainability, resilience and improved quality of life are core elements of smart cities. The Black & Veatch 2016 Strategic Directions: Smart City/Smart Utility Report finds that the conversations of just 12 months ago have become working sessions where cities are bringing their utility, business and community stakeholders to the table to define what smart means to them. The decisions they make, over the long run, will put them on the road to more resilient and livable communities.  

This is important work and it carries new urgency. Projections from the United Nations hold that by 2050, the urban portion of the world’s population is expected to increase to 66% — from 30% in 1950. To meet the needs of these rapidly transforming communities, new approaches to smart planning and the use of technology will be essential.

From Barcelona and Cape Town to Istanbul and New Delhi, government leaders are undertaking end-to-end reconsiderations of how energy, water, transportation and telecommunication systems can work together to supply data and use it to raise efficiency. They are approving utility funding requests tied to telecommunications infrastructure upgrades and investing in sustainability and conservation programs to address the effects of climate change.

Utilities are meeting the challenge, too, by shoring up aging infrastructure and implementing smart grid tools. Data gathering is used to make the business case for their participation in smart city initiatives.

Some communities with leaner budgets but deep interest in smart infrastructure efficiencies are opting for incremental system add-ons — such as street lights, digital kiosks or electric vehicle charging stations – that produce quicker results. Other cities are pursuing some form of root-level master planning, which puts communities on a broad, years-long path toward smarter systems that are designed to work together as a city’s systems scale.

The single largest predictor of smart city success is the roadmap. More than 60% of respondents to Black & Veatch’s smart city/smart utility survey noted one or more smart city activities in which their municipality is involved. Most of these are planning activities such as assessing readiness, consulting with stakeholders or creating a smart city roadmap or master plan, all vital building blocks for meaningful implementation.

Cities and utilities must stand closely together to reach these goals.

Fred Ellermeier is Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Black & Veatch’s Smart Integrated Infrastructure business, which supports the innovations of utilities and cities by establishing the foundation of all smart functions — bringing together physical infrastructure, communication networks and data analytics to infuse intelligence into systems and enable informed decisions and planning. With more than 20 years of experience, Fred is an expert in new market and new business growth in the areas of energy management and sustainable development practices.