Navigant Research Blog

Using Applications to Empower Smart Cities

— December 9, 2014

In late November, the crowdsourced smartphone app Waze released a stunning visualization that showed the traffic flowing through New York City on a recent September day.  Resembling blood flow though a body, cars move through the arteries and veins of city streets and highways, slowed by both collisions and general congestion.  Waze collects data via smartphone owners that allow their location (and speed and direction) to be captured and aggregated, providing real-time information on traffic in a city.  When using Waze, drivers can be alerted to new incidents like accidents and police on the road, and the app can even suggest new routes for a faster ride.

Crowdsourcing apps like Waze, ridesharing apps like Ridejoy, and home control apps like Nest may also be a boon to some of the smart city initiatives being developed and planned worldwide.  Numerous cities in the world are adapting IT for their infrastructure and streamlining operations for their departments.  Navigant Research’s report Navigant Research Leaderboard Report: Smart City Suppliers identifies the promising companies that have demonstrated advanced approaches and penetration in this sector.  Most smart city initiatives begin with public transportation and traffic monitoring, as they are critical services for citizens, and promote commerce as well.

Short on Cash

There’s a basic challenge for cities that want to pursue programs like these, though: limited municipal funding.  In the first world, or in a few examples in the developing world, cities have signed multimillion-dollar contracts, paying large IT and equipment companies for equipment and consulting services for smart city initiatives.  These large price tags limit the adoption of (large) smart city programs in the developing world and in smaller cities and towns.  Crowdsource apps could provide a solution.

If the data from crowdsourced apps like Waze could be shared with municipal agencies, data limitations would virtually disappear.  Instead of paying millions for a full service solution, a city could hire a cadre of data analysts to examine the trends in traffic, identify collision hot spots, and use the aggregated data for long-term traffic planning, supplanting expensive traffic studies.  One example of an interesting use of this kind of data is New York University’s (NYU’s) visualization of taxi rides in New York City.

Taxi Confidential

Using data from the Taxi and Limousine Commission, NYU researchers created a rich queryable database where taxi demand is revealed visually, and the impact of major disruptive events like Hurricanes Sandy and Irene on taxi rides can be understood (namely, that few taxis ventured into the power-less regions of lower Manhattan).  MIT has, in turn, developed an interactive website using the taxi data to demonstrate the value of ridesharing.   The academic insight has yet to be used for city policy, but as the analysis improves, such applications will surely follow.

Certainly, there are obstacles with this approach.  The first is privacy.  Aggregated urban mobility data can be anonymized.  Yet, the idea of governments gaining access to individual citizens’ whereabouts, regardless of the source of the data, may make a fair number of people uncomfortable.  Open questions prevail: Could mobility data be used for forensic purposes?  Since Waze is owned by Google, what other information could be associated and shared?  These questions and many others will have to be addressed through real deployment.  As has been seen through companies like Uber, which is now causing taxi medallion prices to fall, disruptive technologies can shake up the status quo.  City governments have not traditionally been the locus of innovation, but the smartphone in your pocket may change that in the near future.

 

International Innovation Thrives in the Bay Area

— December 8, 2014

Just over 69 years ago, the United Nations (UN) Charter was signed in San Francisco.  That Charter, bringing the UN into creation, has many social, cultural, and humanitarian directives, as well as articles aimed at “international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic character.”  That spirit of cooperation is alive in San Francisco, as evidenced by many international innovation showcases that aim to spur collaboration between the United States and other countries, spread some of the startup magic found across the Bay Area, and simply showcase innovation around the globe.

For example, the German government helps sponsor the German Accelerator in both Silicon Valley and New York.  Its upcoming Captivate event is a startup pitch fest that brings German and German-American funders and entrepreneurs together with brief company pitch sessions.  The Japan Society of Northern California is sponsoring its annual Innovation Showcase in early 2015 to highlight Japanese startups and award the title of “Emerging Leader” to one Japanese and one American entrepreneur whose companies are relevant to both U.S. and Japanese innovation.  The City of San Francisco itself helps spur economic connections with China through its ChinaSF program.  ChinaSF leaders say the program has recruited over 50 companies from the Bay Area to China and created more than 300 jobs since 2008.

The Intelligent Factory

The most recent of these events was the California France Forum on Energy Efficiency Technologies, held in late November in San Francisco.  Focused on manufacturing and the smart factory concept, where IT is deeply integrated into the energy performance of industrial facilities, the forum was sponsored by Prime, a Paris-based high tech incubator, and French energy major EDF.  I spoke on a panel that examined the challenges and potential role of industrial energy management (see Navigant Research’s report, Industrial Energy Management Systems), along with Ethan Rogers of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), who discussed the potential energy savings in the industrial sector.

Specifically, Rogers identified ACEEE’s scenario-based modeling that determined that the U.S. industrial sector could save between $7 billion and $25 billion in annual energy costs by 2035 through energy efficiency gains.  Also on the panel was Arnaud Legrand, CEO of Energiency, a spinoff from Orange/France Telecom that aims to use big data analysis to improve industrial energy use through a software as a service-based solution, and Michel Morvan, co-founder of CoSMo Company.

CoSMo’s approach, based in the study of complex systems, is to use simulation to understand the regimes of behavior of industrial systems, accounting for supply chain, energy uses, workforce, and other inputs.  Morvan views the factory as a system of systems, and his company has developed approaches to simulate the core elements as well as the interconnections between the systems.  In this model, the goal is full energy optimization.  CoSMo is set to fully launch in mid-2015.

 

Healthy Buildings Get a Boost in New Orleans

— November 10, 2014

With the release of LEED V4, the latest version of its green building rating system, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is addressing two major components of health: indoor air quality (IAQ) and material transparency.

The former is not a new concept in buildings.  According to Navigant Research’s report, Indoor Air Quality Monitoring and Management, global revenue associated with IAQ is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of close to 9% between 2013 and 2020.

As for material transparency, addressing the environmental impacts of chemicals and materials in buildings – and their corresponding health effects – could be a game changer.  By partnering with UL Environment, USGBC will make available Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for equipment and materials used in buildings, making transparent what chemicals are near and around people in buildings.

And not a moment too soon.  At the Greenbuild conference in New Orleans, Professor Andrew Whelton of Purdue University presented his findings that polyethylene pipes used for water conveyance in green buildings have been leaching chemicals into the drinking water – above minimum standard levels.  Plastic pipes are used in green building construction because they use less embedded energy in their production and transportation, relative to traditional metal piping.  The direct health implications are not clear from Professor Whelton’s findings, but they certainly provide evidence that the chemical makeup and leaching potential are components worth tracking in buildings that are supposedly environmentally friendly.

Better Buildings = Better Business

Another point of the building-health connection was released in a report by the World Green Business Council, a partner organization to USGBC.   The report, Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices, starts with the overarching premise that the most expensive part of any building is its inhabitants, accounting for up to 90% of operating expenses (it’s not clear if this estimate holds true throughout the developing and the developed regions of the world).  The report analyzes the associated health implications of building siting, design, and operations on qualitative and qualitative metrics like occupant health outcomes, well-being, and perceived benefits, as well as organizational and corporate financial outcomes.  For example, an office environment that forces employees to walk around can improve their overall health, reducing absenteeism and physical complaints.  Another example: a 2011 article in the journal Indoor Air indicated that relative to standard temperature baselines in an office, employees were 4% and 6% less productive at cooler and warmer temperatures, respectively.

Greenbuild also hosted Acting U.S. Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak. Rear Admiral Lushniak challenged the audience to design preventive healthcare into the built environment, making healthy buildings the default, rather than a specialty.  He also advocated for a “Blue Movement” focusing on human health, like the Green Movement addresses sustainability and environmentalism.  Rear Admiral Lushniak ushered in the concept of integrating health into building design, function, and operations for the green building community with passion.

 

What “Sustainable Buildings” Really Means

— November 4, 2014

Employing sustainable technologies and models for new and existing buildings is the central challenge of the construction and energy management industries today.  Often, simply defining “sustainability” can be in and of itself a challenge.  The goal is to transform buildings from static pillars of energy use to dynamic environments promoting long-term, low impact solutions to the challenges of high-carbon energy, droughts, and risks associated with climate change.

At the Vision 2020 Sustainability Summit, held as a precursor to the Greenbuild conference in New Orleans, the role of technology in driving this shift was a primary topic.  At the Summit, at least, the definition was clear.  Sustainability was presented as a series of long- and short-term initiatives that will help accelerate the transformation.

In a series of discussions of applied sustainability, the Summit speakers presented a number of innovations and solutions already in design or in the field today.  Starting with the basics, Doug Bennett, conservation manager with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, described water conservation in practice in the desert state.  As people continue to relocate to the drought-afflicted Western states, Bennett pointed out, most residential water is now used for landscaping, not inside the house.  A new frame of mind is needed, he suggested, to ensure that resources will be available in the next decade.  For example, just because fountains and lawns use reclaimed water, that doesn’t mean that the water is “free.”  Reclaimed water is still water and can be viewed as part of the potable water cycle, with admittedly different attributes.

Not Just Sinks

Most of the event was focused on buildings and their potential to be more than the blunt end-use energy sinks they are today.  Steven Winter, founder and president of Steven Winter Associates, talked about how the building stock of the near future is in development now.  It takes time for a construction project to be put in place, and if aspirational goals are to be incorporated, there are plenty of contemporary projects in progress that can address efficient and sustainable design, construction, and implementation.

New financial mechanisms, such Enlighted’s Global Energy Optimization (GEO) financing for capital matchmaking for LED retrofits, are starting to tap the great potential for efficiency savings in existing buildings.  (See Navigant Research’s report, Energy Efficiency Retrofits for Commercial and Public Buildings, for a detailed examination of the drivers and challenges of retrofits in existing buildings.)  Winter also advocates the use of more carrots and sticks for sustainable building operations.  The use of publicly available city-based benchmarking is one such approach; open disclosure by entities like GRESB and Green Building Information Gateway is another.

Every Bit Matters

Paul Torcellini of National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), an early leader in zero energy buildings, emphasizes that every decision in a building’s design, construction, and operation has some energy impact.  That simple realization is frequently overlooked.  One major challenge facing existing and new buildings, including high-performing buildings, is the need to train personnel to ensure that complex system operations (with lofty goals) of a building can be easily carried out.

The other speakers at Vision 2020 made it clear that in order for the ambitious goals of a sustainable, low-carbon, low-energy future to be reached, innovation in materials, processes, and technology must be put into place now.  And the building stock of the future will mostly be the building stock of the present – so investment and attention are needed to get that stock performing optimally.

 

Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date

Tags

Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Smart Grid Practice, Smart Transportation Practice, Smart Transportation Program, Utility Innovations

By Author


{"userID":"","pageName":"Noah Goldstein","path":"\/author\/ngoldstein","date":"12\/20\/2014"}