The Smartest Cities And Utilities May Have Their Heads In The Cloud


Ken Silverstein, Contributor

May 24, 2015

Like a lot of cities, San Jose, California wants to drive economic growth while improving its air quality. Unlike many jurisdictions, it’s using information technology to see where it can succeed. Does San Jose have its head in the cloud?

Well, yes, it does — in the so-called Internet of Things. It’s about gathering data from lots of points and storing that information in the cybersphere where it it can then be analyzed in fine detail. Doing so can help locales improve traffic flow and optimize their grids, which can make room for more green energy, among other things.

“Transitioning to a green economy is vital, as global population and energy demand are on the rise,” says Lauren Riga, a smart cities expert formerly with the City of Gary, Indiana, in an email exchange. “As the world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history, there is a growing movement to turn cities into meccas for sustainable living.”

She points to the World Health Organization’s figures, which say that urban growth around the globe will rise from 3.4 billion in 2009 to 6.4 billion in 2050. “Enabled solutions” that rely on the Internet of Things have the potential to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 16 percent by 2020, she says, referencing the 2014 Internet of Things World Forum.

With respect to San Jose, it is partnering with Intel Corp. to create 25,000 clean technology positions. How? By installing air quality assessments as well as climate and sound sensors, the partnership will measure airborne particulates, noise pollution and traffic patterns. Having access to that information will enable better decision making, which will lead to healthier conditions and cleaner environs.

Other cities are taking similar steps, says Riga: Carson City Nevada created an infrastructure device that controls wastewater, transportation, landfill, and energy.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s WindyGrid is a research platform that provides near-real-time and historical data from a dozen sources, which give a wide ranging view for managers to see what happens in the city, she adds. Other places around the country are refining lighting technologies and deploying energy efficiencies.

Barcelona, Spain, for example, has employed cloud-based data storage to reduce vehicular traffic, which in turn makes it easier to find parking spots and to increase business at local shops. Sensors installed on parking spots are connected to signage that can point drivers to where there are open spaces, eliminating the amount of time spent driving around and clogging streets.

Elsewhere, big box retailers are reducing their electricity bills by mounting motion sensors in such places as bathrooms and storage rooms. If they detect movement, the lights turn on. But once such motion stops, they go dark.

“All this is happening today,” says Kip Compton, vice president of Cisco System’s Internet of Things’ systems and software, which is working with Barcelona. “But we are still in the beginning. This will be huge.”

Elsewhere, IBM is working with utilities and cities worldwide. In partnership with the telecommunications giant Vodafone Group, it is in other Spanish cities to address mobility, buildings, design, water and energy. And it’s in the United Kingdom too, where it has helped the utility National Grid realize a 23 percent reduction in operating expenses as a result of cloud-based data gathering.

For their part, power grid operators have traditionally relied on scheduled asset maintenance to keep the lines open and the power on — all based on “silos” of data compilation, as opposed to a holistic aggregation and analysis. That has made it difficult to assimilate the plethora of information coming at them.

Now, though, with cloud-based solutions that can store and analyze big data, those same professionals have a 360-degree view of their assets — everything from the transformer to the entire grid. Such views are in both real-time and over prolonged times so as to make long-term projections.

“We have a place you go where you can see everything you want to know about the assets. We are also getting the ability to see asset conditions – a really useful way for us to manage risk in this business,” says Jon Fenn, head of network engineering for National Grid.

Whether they are “smart cities” or “smart utilities,” they are all using intelligent communications technologies to collect, store and analyze information. It’s creating better corporate decisions while building more sustainable societies, all during a period of global population growth and increased consumption.

This article was written by Ken Silverstein from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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